Chetco River Watershed Council struggling to stay afloat

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer January 04, 2013 09:49 pm

 

The Chetco River Watershed Council is down to its last $300 since the South Coast Coordinating Watershed Council (SCCWC) severed its relationship and ceased funding the Brookings-based council last May.

That could leave important studies in the Chetco River – including water-temperature monitoring critical to coho salmon, and that is in its fourth of five years – in limbo.

The Chetco River Watershed Council (CRWC) is trying to establish a baseline of information regarding water temperatures to help it obtain grant funds to restore salmon habitat – one of the watershed’s primary goals.

 

Most recently, the council hosted a representative from the Oregon Dept. of State Lands to take public comment about the group’s opposition to recreational vehicle travel in the Chetco River.

Other studies it would like to conduct include evaluating the health of aquatic insects, snorkeling tributaries to count fish, educating people about erosion and estuary pollution, continuing with clean-up operations on riverbanks and getting a say in future floodplain development.

“Again, it’s about time and money,” said Tim Guzik, chair of the CRWC. “It’s important work.”

They didn’t get much funding before the SCCWC decided to withdraw its support. Most money came from the council’s own fundraising efforts and, in the case of the temperature probes in the Chetco River, was contributed by Trout Unlimited.

SCCWC, based in Gold Beach, told the CRWC in May it could not longer support that group, citing bylaw violations, vendettas against landowners along rivers and general attitudes toward the public. 

CRWC member Yvonne Maitland says the allegations are unfounded.

Yet, without the support of the SCCWC, the CRWC is now merely considered a group of citizens interested in the health of its watershed. A representative from the State Lands Board said they consider all comments equally, whether they originate from individuals or a council.

“We’re still a watershed council,” Maitland said. “We’re just not being funded.”

The SCCWC is funded by the Oregon Watershed Environmental Board (OWEB), which gets some of its funds from Oregon Lottery revenue. SCCWC, through the Soil and Conservation District, then allocates money, as it sees fit, to councils that address watershed issues in its region.

There are six regional watershed councils in the state and seven under the auspices of the SCCWC. There are 10 watersheds and five national Wild and Scenic rivers in the SCCWC region.

Some CRWC members plan to attend next month’s OWEB meeting to figure exactly how they will be affected now that their council is no longer supported by SCCWC. Theoretically, duties of the Chetco council would fall to SCCWC. But that has yet to be seen, Maitland said.

“We have had so little money for the Chetco,” she said. “There’s no management plan – we have no money for the river. It’s very egregious, it’s very unjust.”

Regardless, CRWC members insist they will do what they can for the river, and spent time at a meeting earlier this week discussing short- and long-term goals.

“We have to think about what we can do, and get the biggest bang for our buck,” Guzik said. “Our projects might be relatively small, but they could have a great impact.”

A little education could go a long way, they agreed Wednesday.

One suggestion at the meeting was to educate residents of low-lying river properties about the effect their septic tanks have on water quality when the river rises and floods their land, as it did at the end of November.

Septic systems can fill with flood water and release their contents into the river. If they were drained in the fall, before potential high water incidents, their effect could be greatly reduced, said member Carl Page.

The council also discussed three landslides that occurred in Tuttle Creek after the last heavy rainstorms and the effects of that soil in the estuary below. 

“We don’t even have the money to buy materials to help landowners that are losing properties to soil erosion,” Guzik said. “It’d be nice to do little projects like that.”

They don’t plan to quit, even if they aren’t allowed back under the umbrella of the SCCWC.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to go forward,” Guzik said. “But even if we don’t get funding, these are people who genuinely care about the river. We’ll try to stay as positive as we can. I just want us to do good things and do our best to look out for the river.”

“We are trying to do our best for the river,” Maitland said. “That’s our only objective.”