Farm Bureau Attacks Federal Water-Protection Law

A large coalition of fishing groups and environmentalists moved to intervene in a lawsuit filed recently by two landowners in Mendocino County and several units of the Farm Bureau.


Joseph Brecher, Earthjustice, 510-496-0600

A large coalition of fishing groups and environmentalists has moved to intervene in a lawsuit filed recently by two landowners in Mendocino County and several units of the Farm Bureau. The purpose of the suit, according to intervenors, is to destroy a vital part of the nation’s effort to protect and restore streams nationwide from the ravages of pollution from a wide variety of sources.

At issue are regulations under the federal Clean Water Act that aim to clean up the nation’s waterways by calculating how much of all kinds of pollution various waterbodies can tolerate, then adjusting all polluting activities in the area to keep them under a total overall limit. The limits are called TMDLs, or “total maximum daily loads.”

The Farm Bureau, for its part, argues that logging and other “nonpoint” sources of pollution, such as agriculture, should be exempt because Congress never intended to regulate them.

“The Bureau’s position, to put it charitably, is ridiculous,” said Joe Brecher, an Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney who represents the groups seeking to intervene in the case. “Does a coho salmon care whether it’s being poisoned by silt from a clearcut or effluent from a pulp mill? The Clean Water Act is not meant to give special treatment to special interests. Everyone responsible for polluting streams must pull together if we are going to save our native fish.”

The suit targets the first TMDL regulations in California, issued to regulate surface-disturbing activities in the watershed of the Garcia River, which enters the Pacific Ocean near Point Arena in Northern California.

“The absurdity of the Farm Bureau’s position is illustrated perfectly in the present situation,” Brecher said. “Logging and its associated roadbuilding are just about the only activities that have damaged the Garcia, causing so much damage that the salmon and steelhead are almost gone. If we don’t regulate logging, we can write off the fishery, it’s that simple.”

The lawsuit (Pronsolino et al. V. Marcus et al. C 99-1828) was filed April 12, 1999, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and assigned to Judge Fern Smith. The plaintiffs ask the court to eliminate all regulations concerning nonpoint sources of pollution in the watershed of the Garcia River and to make a blanket finding that the Clean Water Act does not cover nonpoint sources in the TMDL process. A hearing on the motion to intervene is scheduled for June 25.

Organizations seeking to intervene in the case are the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association, Sierra Club, EPIC, Coast Action Group, Friends of the Garcia, California Trout, Klamath Forest Alliance, Mendocino Environmental Center, Willits Environmental Center, California Wilderness Coalition, Friends of the Navarro River, South Fork Mountain Defense Committee, Northcoast Environmental Center, and San Francisco BayKeeper.

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