Tracy — Despite budget cuts that threaten other State Parks, the Department of Parks and Recreation had not planned to close any of their State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRAs). That may change, now that a Superior Court Judge has ordered Carnegie SVRA either to comply with the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act by filing a Report of Waste Discharge and suspending all off-highway vehicle activity until it receives a permit from the Central Valley Regional Water Board, or to attend a December 4th hearing to show cause why it does not need to do so.
Issued on September 22, 2009 by Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court, the writ is a result of a lawsuit charging the Department’s Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division with allowing sediment from off-road trails and areas to pollute Corral Hollow Creek. The suit was filed on September 17 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) charging the California Department of Parks and Recreation and its OHMVR Division with violating the state’s Water Code and their own regulations by allowing off-road vehicle activities to pollute Corral Hollow Creek at Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation area.
The court agreed with the plaintiffs that the OHMVR Division is violating State law by failing to file required Reports of Waste Discharge for vast amounts of sediment and heavy metals being discharged into the creek from Carnegie’s heavily-used off-road trails and open areas. Moreover, the OHMVR Division is failing to comply with its own regulations, which require annual monitoring of soil loss and damage to wildlife habitat.
Carnegie (SVRA), near Tracy, is home to a number of sensitive, endangered and threatened wildlife species, including the Kit fox, California Red-legged frog, Western pond turtle, Alameda whipsnake, California tiger salamander, Golden eagle, Western spadefoot toad and Large flowered fiddlenecks.
Carnegie’s denuded hillsides, a result of decades of damaging “hillclimbs” by off-road vehicles, stand in stark contrast to the lushly vegetated slopes on adjoining private lands. Inside the park, steep trails are badly eroded and Corral Hollow Creek is used as an off-road play area.
“State Parks has allowed an obscene degradation, not only of a public facility, but of waters of the State,” observed Karen Schambach, California Field Director for PEER. “Off-roaders shouldn’t be getting a free pass to pollute, merely because theirs is a recreational use.”
Bill Jennings, Executive Director of CSPA said, “DPR is failing its duty to protect the water quality of Corral Hollow Creek by allowing its eroded trails to spew sediment into the creek and riders at the park to use the creek as an off-road play area. DPR’s failure is amplified by its effort to evade the California Regional Water Quality Control Board’s authority to regulate and prevent the park’s pollution.”
The OHMVR Division is responsible for ensuring responsible management of off-road use throughout the state, including on thousands of acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land that have receive hundreds of millions of dollars over the 38-year life of the program. Conservation groups have, for years, charged the program with putting recreation interests over environmental protection. The program, the beneficiary of $60 million a year in state fuel tax revenues, is the only Division of State Parks not facing budget-related park closures.