The owners of Reservation Ranch are addressing a notice of violation from the regional water quality board over alleged unlawful discharges of waste into Tillas Slough and another tributary of the Smith River.

Steven Westbrook, co-owner and manager of Reservation Ranch in Smith River, received an order for technical reports from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board on Dec. 11, 2018. The order requires Reservation Ranch to produce information related to its historical operation.

According to the notice, the Westbrook family has owned and operated the ranch since 1930.

In an email to the Triplicate on Monday, Westbrook said all of the alleged violations outlined in the water quality control board’s order occurred prior to the current ownership and management of the ranch. He said the ranch is working with the water quality control board to address its concerns.

The Dec. 11, 2018, letter to Westbrook mentions an earlier order the regional water quality board issued on Jan. 9, 2017, requiring information about Islas Slough fill activities, trash and cow disposal areas, dredging within Tillas Slough and levee construction. That order was issued after water board staff inspected the property on Sept. 21, 2016, and observed unpermitted discharges of waste including dredge or fill materials into local streams.

The water board’s Dec. 11, 2018, notice states that review of historic imagery show six crossings built across an unnamed tributary of the Smith River as well as the main, east and west forks of Tillas Slough without Clean Water Act water quality certifications or waste discharge requirements.

The water board’s notice states a new road was built, an existing road was reconstructed and widened, riparian vegetation was removed and a tributary of Tillas Slough was straightened without Clean Water Act certifications or waste discharge requirements. According to the notice, a “sinuous and braided channel with riparian vegetation was replaced with a straight roadside ditch at some time between 1988 and 1992.”

According to the water board’s letter to Westbrook, its 2018 order is based on a statement Westbrook made during a Sept. 21, 2016, inspection that Reservation Ranch impounds freshwater behind crossings on the east fork of Tillas Slough during the summer. The notice states both the crossings and the freshwater impoundment has eliminated tidal inflow to Tillas Slough and has altered its estuarine hydrology.

“Changes to abiotic estuarine conditions from excluded or altered tidal circulation include increased salinity, increased temperature and reduced dissolved oxygen and will affect fish and other aquatic estuarine organisms as they are forced to either adapt to the altered environmental conditions or relocate,” the water quality board’s notice states. “Complete blockage of tidal flow will exclude estuarine species from utilizing potential habitat upstream of the tidal blockage.”

According to the water quality control board, Tillas Slough provides habitat for the federally endangered tidewater goby, chinook and coho salmon, cutthroat trout and steelhead trout. The notice also cites the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Salmon Recovery Plan which identifies the Smith River coho salmon population rate at “high risk” of extinction and states impaired estuary function creates stress for juvenile and adults.

According to the regional water board, it has no evidence that Reservation Ranch obtained permits or water quality certifications for the storage of freshwater within Tillas Slough, which is identified as waste under the California Water Code. The notice states that the Regional Water Board has the authority to impose administrative civil liabilities of up to $10,000 per violation per day and $10 per gallon discharged and not cleaned up in excess of 1,000 gallons.

The crossings of Tillas Slough and freshwater storage is also a violation of a conditional waiver prohibition for discharges of waste to waters of the U.S. According to the notice, the Regional Water Board has the authority to impose an administrative civil liability of up to $5,000 per violation per day or $10 per gallon of waste discharged.

As a result of the violations, the Regional Water Quality Board is giving Reservation Ranch until April 10, 2019, to submit technical reports on the installation of the water crossings as well as their current conditions and any alterations, maintenance and repairs that have been made since then. Reservation Ranch is also required to submit a technical report on how water is imported, collected and stored within the east fork of Tillas Slough.

Reservation Ranch is also required to submit a technical report on the roadway segment that was built and redeveloped between 1988 and 1992.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

22258658