Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, April 14, 2010

Contact:  Karen Schambach, (PEER), (530) 333-2545
Lisa Belenky, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5694

State Water Board Declines Review of Rubicon Cleanup Order

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Forest Service suffered a major setback in its effort to dodge liability for pollution of Sierra Nevada lakes and streams resulting from use and abuse of the infamous Rubicon Trail when the state’s Water Resources Control Board refused on Tuesday to review a regional water board’s cleanup-and-abatement order for the trail.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued the order jointly to Eldorado County and Eldorado National Forest last April, after neither entity would act to stop the damage being caused by extreme off-road vehicle use on the historic trail and water pollution caused by human waste. Other users of the area, which is adjacent to Desolation Wilderness, were appalled by the damage being done to the fragile high-alpine lands and lakes by ORVs. The county had spent $400,000 provided by California State Parks grants on a management plan, but dropped the plan when some in the off-road community complained. The state has said it will not ask for the county to return the $400,000, despite its budget woes.

Local residents who had served several years on the County’s Rubicon Oversight Committee, only to see every effort at responsible management thwarted by the powerful off-road lobby, then complained to the Central Valley Regional Water Board, which, after thoroughly investigating the complaints, issued the cleanup-and-abatement order.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s California Field Director Karen Schambach praised the state board’s decision. “This moves us a little further toward getting the Forest Service to take responsibility for the damage.”

The Forest Service had claimed it was not liable for damage caused by the trail, which runs through the Eldorado National Forest, because it is an “unmaintained county road.” The agency also contended the regional water board did not have jurisdiction to hold the Forest Service accountable for compliance with the state’s Water Code. The state board’s letter, dated April 13, said simply that the Forest Service petition “failed to raise any substantial issues that are appropriate for review…”

“Rather than fighting the regional board’s order, the Forest Service should act swiftly to protect the water quality and stop activities that degrade and pollute our waters on the federal public lands it manages,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state water board correctly dismissed the Forest Service’s challenge. Increasing and irresponsible use of the trail has caused excessive amounts of silt, automotive fluids, and bacteria to flow into lakes and streams essential for native trout, mountain yellow-legged frogs, and drinking water.”

The Forest Service has 30 days in which it may seek to have the order overturned by a court.

April 2010 state water board letter.

April 2009 cleanup and abatement order.

Environmental impacts of off-road vehicles on the Rubicon Trail.

Go back