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An Impaired River

The Gualala is considered an “impaired” river under the federal Clean Water Act because of excessive sediment and high temperatures, both of which can be lethal to salmon and steelhead. The excessive sediment and high temperatures are primarily the result of past logging practices.

Powerline THP, June 1999
When trees are logged selectively, forest habitat is preserved, and the remaining trees hold the soil in place. The soil holds the rainwater, and releases it slowly. When a hillside is clearcut, there is nothing left to hold the soil, so the rain washes dirt and gravel down into the river and its tributaries.

When trees are left in the riparian zone (along the banks of a river or stream), they provide shade from the summer sun, which keeps water temperatures cool. California’s Forest Practice Rules now require trees in the riparian zone to be preserved, but until those Rules were enacted in the 1970s, loggers cut right to the water’s edge.

Sediments have filled in many of the deep pools in the Gualala River that once sheltered salmon. Now the shallower streams, with less shade coverage, heat up in the summer, becoming too hot to support the once-abundant salmon.

Given sufficient time, the sediment would be swept out of the river by high seasonal flows, and the salmon habitat would recover. However, a new round of clearcutting begun in the 1990s has further damaged the river, and delayed its recovery.

“I can’t imagine a more glaring illustration of cumulative impacts than the Gualala River,” said Helen Libeu, President of Citizens for Watershed Protection. “The cumulative impacts from clear-cut logging on steep slopes have simply filled the river in to where it’s a sandbank with this little tiny strip of water snaking through.”

Mary Pjerrou, President of the Greenwood Watershed Association, in “Watershed Protection, Myth and Reality,” June 1999, said:

“The collateral damage from this destruction of the timber base has been severe, and is on-going: including the rivers of mud we see out in the ocean after every winter storm, from every river and stream along the coast; the imminent loss of the coho salmon; the potential loss of the steelhead.The loss of these resources is illegal. We have laws that were supposed to prevent such losses. Government has failed to enforce them – and Big Timber has put up a relentless fight against all efforts to conserve soil, water, fish, wildlife and forest integrity.”



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with info about forestry in the Gualala watershed