Toll-Road Dissing NOAA Now Fights to Protect Local Steelhead

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Perhaps environmentally sensitive locals should withhold sending support to the Sierra Club, the Surfrider Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council and instead cut checks to the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was, after all, the NOAA that dealt what many believe to be the final death blow to extension of the 241 Foothill South toll road through a state park and perilously close to Trestles. Now the NOAA is sticking up for local steelhead trout.

Rodney R. McInnis, the NOAA's Southwest regional administrator, writes in a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board stamped Feb. 20, 2009, that his agency's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) protests the South Coast Water District's application to "appropriate" water from Aliso Creek because there is historical evidence steelhead trout once lived there and could possibly return again.


"NMFS has documented steelhead presence recently in creeks directly adjacent to Aliso Creek; specifically, San Juan Creek, Arroyo Trabuco Creek and San Mateo Creek," states the letter. "NMFS is therefore concerned that the proposed action would reduce the chances for steelhead recovery within Aliso Creek by reducing the quantity and quality of instream habitat for steelhead immigration and emigration, spawning and rearing. Furthermore, diverting water may cause take of steelhead, which is prohibited under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act."

McInnis goes on to note that the water district's application "does not acknowledge historical presence of endangered steelhead in the Aliso Creek Watershed," and thus lacks strategies to deal with potential harm to the fish. The NMFS will withdraw its protest if a new application addressing the steelhead situation is filed, the letter concludes.

McInnis' missive mirrors the concerns raised in protests to the water district proposal filed by George Sutherland, project coordinator with the San Clemente-based South Coast chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Michael Hazzard of the Laguna Beach-based Clean Water Now! Coalition. Hazzard and the coalition's fearless leader, Roger Butow, have spun off a new eco-group, Friends of the Aliso Creek Steelhead.

Butow says the NOAA's participation, coupled recent support for Aliso Creek steelhead protection from California Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State Water Resources Control Board, Trout Unlimited and Cal Trout should make it easier to slap polluters up and down the watershed.

That's great. But now that I've thought about it, do keep sending those checks to the Sierra Club, Surfrider and the NRDC. They have cuter tote bags than the NOAA. 
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