Sacramento — The U.S. Forest Service must clean up pollution of Sierra lakes and streams resulting from off-road vehicle traffic on the infamous Rubicon Trail, according to a state water quality board decision released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Biological Diversity.
In a decision dated April 13, 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board refused to review a Regional Water Board’s Cleanup and Abatement Order for the trail. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board had issued the Cleanup and Abatement order jointly to Eldorado County and Eldorado National Forest last April, after neither agency would act to stop the damage being caused by extreme off-road vehicle use on the historic trail and water pollution caused by human waste.
Local residents had served several years on the County’s Rubicon Oversight Committee, only to see every effort at responsible management thwarted by the powerful off-road lobby. They then complained to the Central Valley Regional Water Board, which, after thoroughly investigating the complaints, issued the Cleanup and Abatement Order that was just upheld by the state.
“This moves us a little further toward getting the Forest Service to take responsibility for the damage,” stated California PEER Director Karen Schambach praised the State Water Board’s decision. “The Forest Service should be ashamed that it is resisting a Clean Water Act enforcement order.”
Other users of the area, which is adjacent to Desolation Wilderness, were appalled by the damage being done to the fragile high alpine lands and lakes. The County had spent $400,000 provided by California State Parks State Park grants on a management plan, but dropped the plan when some in the off-road community complained. The State of California has said it will not ask for the county to return the $400,000, despite its own budget woes.
The Forest Service had asserted it was not liable for damage caused by the trail, which runs through the Eldorado National Forest, because it is an “unmaintained county road.” The agency also contended the Regional Water Board did not have jurisdiction to hold the Forest Service accountable for compliance with the State Water Code. The State Water Board’s letter said simply that the Forest Service petition “failed to raise any substantial issues that are appropriate for review…”
“Rather than fighting the Regional Board’s order, the Forest Service should act swiftly to protect the water quality and stop activities that degrade and pollute our waters on the federal public lands they manage,” said Lisa Belenky, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The State Water Board correctly dismissed the Forest Service’s challenge.”
The Forest Service has 30 days in which to comply or seek to have the Cleanup and Abatement Order overturned by a court.