South Yuba River Citizens League files notice over dams
The South Yuba River Citizens League has jumped in deeper on the debate over the future of two Yuba River dams, sending its own notice this week of an intent to sue in 60 days if the US Army Corps of Engineers does not begin taking steps to make the dams suitable for fish passage.
League members contend in the notice, filed Tuesday, that there is no good reason for the Corps not to begin implementing recommendations, called “Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives,” from a National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinion released earlier this year on endangered fish runs in the Yuba.
“Despite the necessity and feasibility of implementing these fish passage RPAs, the Corps is once again failing to take the actions needed to comply,” states the notice, which is signed by attorney Christopher Sproul of Environmental Advocates, acting as SYRCL’s counsel.
SYRCL’s filing comes a week after the Yuba County Water Agency filed a similar notice with the Corps and National Marine Fisheries, citing numerous flaws in the opinion and asking it to be corrected within 60 days or face a suit.
Sproul said the two events were linked, and reflected the league’s desire to remain at the table on what will become of the Daguerre Point and Englebright dams, which are operated by the Corps.
Though the opinion stipulated the Corps should add some kind of fish passage to Englebright in the near future, and possibly remove both dams in the long term, the response from the Corps was lacking, Sproul said.
“They were unequivocal,” he said. “They’ve gone on record as saying they won’t do it and they don’t plan to do it.”
Chris Gray, a spokesman for the Corps’ Sacramento office, said while policy is not to comment on pending litigation, the Corps plans to remain involved in the biological opinion’s recommendations and has submitted its comments of concern to National Marine Fisheries.
“We’ll continue to implement the measures within our authority to build on the progress we’ve already made improving habitat for threatened fish in the Yuba River,” Gray said in a statement from the Corps.
Curt Aikens, YCWA’s general manager, said he would question the league’s petition because even fisheries service officials have said the recommendations are not feasible under the suggested timeline.
“Just unrealistic objectives come out of the b.o. (biological opinion),” he said, adding the Corps does not have the authority on its own to implement the suggested recommendations.
In the YCWA’s notice last week, it cited numerous problems and oversights in the National Marine Fisheries biological opinion.
Among them, according to water agency staff and board members, was giving the water agency only 24 hours to comment before the biological opinion was published in February.
And the fisheries service’s opinion also does not take into account the work the water agency and others have already undertaken to improve fish runs. Yuba County Supervisor John Nicoletti, a water agency board member, has said one could have walked across the river on the backs of fish in recent years because of recovery efforts.
Sproul, of Environmental Advocates, said the threat of pending court action could compel the Corps to take action and work with other agencies. Aikens said working collaboratively – as the YCWA has done and continues to do with groups like SYRCL – is a preferable way to go.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.