Friends of the Earth, represented by Earthjustice, have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking more effective regulation of sewage discharges from cruise ships and other vessels in U.S. waters. Cruise ships alone dumped more than 1 billion gallons of sewage in the ocean in 2013r, much of it poorly treated. In addition, tens of thousands of ocean-going vessels like cargo ships and oil tankers discharged even more inadequately treated sewage into our coastal waters.
What's at Stake
Earthjustice challenged the approval of a massive gravel mining project on Russian River that would adversely affect the environment. A settlement was reached that greatly reduced the environmental impacts, established a monitoring and management mechanism, and gave the community a voice in the process.
In December 2010, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors authorized the Syar Industries to extract up to 350,000 tons of gravel from a 6.5 mile stretch of the Russian River every year, for a period of 15 years. The county’s own analysis concluded that the river can only naturally replenish about 181,000 tons of gravel per year. The excessive mining would therefore have exceeded the natural replenishment process.
The scale of this project would have been a significant source of pollution, affected downstream property values through bank erosion and destroyed essential habitat for the many endangered species of fish, including salmon and steelhead trout. Damage from in-stream gravel mining to salmon and steelhead populations is well-documented, yet; safeguards to prevent such impacts were not properly addressed in the county’s environmental impact report.
In January 2011, Earthjustice challenged the approval of the project in a civil action suit against the County of Sonoma and Syar Industries. The lawsuit set out to ensure that the adverse impacts to the endangered steelhead and salmon, property owners and the river’s ecology were properly analyzed, understood and mitigated.
In October 2012, Earthjustice and Syar Industies reached a settlement that limited the mining to 175,000 tons of gravel each year for the first three years, instead of the initially approved 350,000 tons. An additional 40,000 tons will be allowed to be salvaged strictly through habitat improvement projects. The settlement also requires the establishment of a comprehensive adaptive management and monitoring process, under which an independent scientific review team will analyze and guide annual mining plans to ensure the extracted gravel does not exceed the amount that is naturally replenished from upstream.
Under the settlement, the two organizations represented by Earthjustice, Russian Riverkeeper and the Redwood Empire Chapter of Trout Unlimited, will receive funding to hire their own scientific consultants, who will actively participate in the ongoing adaptive management to ensure the functionality of the process. The additional monitoring and county oversight will also allow for input from landowners and the community.