Suit Says Redwoods Provide Water
-West county residents try to stop logging, claiming fog drip critical
to aquifer levels
Santa Rosa Press Democrat - 7/6/02
By Carol Benfell, staff writer
of water-scarce Joy Road near Occidental are heading to court to
preserve a 13-acre redwood forest near their homes that they said
is crucial to maintaining their water supply.
lawsuit, one of three recent filings that go to the heart of Department
of Forestry timber plan approvals, claims the state agency ignored
professional and academic studies that show redwood trees contribute
to the underground water supply by trapping fog and condensing it
into water, which then drips onto the forest floor and into underground
we're successful it would show that redwoods are essential to our
area," said Edwin Wilson, the attorney for the Joy Road-area
homeowners. "The trees stop water that would otherwise fall
as rain somewhere else."
CDF attorney Norm Hill said the department studied the fog drip
issue and concluded the water loss to the homeowners was not significant.
have a feeling that whatever we're doing, people would say it's
not enough," he said. "In some cases, they are only looking
for disapproval of the timber harvest plan, not an environmental
plans approved by the Department of Forestry are increasingly under
fire as residents near planned cuts rally to keep the trees. Each
group cites different concerns. But if the lawsuits are successful,
they could change the way the Department of Forestry does business.
addition to fog drip, Joy Road residents allege that the Department
of Forestry does not follow the California Environmental Quality
Act closely enough.
suit claims the department approved the timber harvest plan before
all the studies were complete, failed to give adequate notice of
the proposed harvest as required by law, ignored the potential development
of two to three homes on the property, and did not adequately address
the need to protect spotted owls and other wildlife.
filed earlier this year by families near Mill Creek involves proposed
logging of 199 acres west of Healdsburg. The suit attacks the department's
definition of "sustainable yield" and could require more
trees be left standing after a cut.
lawsuit challenges the department's decision to allow a landowner
in Knights Valley, in northeast Sonoma County, to log 60 acres without
suit, brought by Forest Unlimited, a Sebastopol environmental group,
would require stricter standards in deciding if a permit is needed.
they could change the practice of logging in California," Rick
Coates, director of Forest Unlimited, said of the lawsuits.
100 families live on Joy Road, which runs along a ridge top above
the deep canyons of Fay Creek. Some of the families have lived there
for decades, while others have moved in within the past three years.
Some 50 families in the Joy Road area, which includes Taylor Lane
and part of Bittner Road, have filed the lawsuit.
A county study in 1974 concluded that water consumption in the Joy
Road area was nearing the maximum that underground aquifers could
produce and that no more development should be allowed.
year the Board of Supervisors ordered groundwater studies in the
Joy Road area and four other water-scarce areas in the county.
water use continues to increase.
for subdivisions dating back 50 or 100 years, called certificates
of compliance, allow new homes to be built, while vineyards, which
draw more water than pastures, have gone in.
Joy Road-area homeowners must now truck in water for five or six
months a year. Others have bought additional property in order to
have a second well.
the threat of losing part of the water supply through neighbor Chuck
Butler's selective redwood harvesting has some homeowners up in
reduction in ground water where people are already having to haul
water is scary," said Carl Wahl, coordinator of the Joy Road
Area Forest and Watershed Association, which brought the lawsuit.
think CDF is deliberately trying to downplay the contribution of
fog drip to annual underground water supply," Wahl said. "This
is not some ploy to save trees."
A half-dozen studies showing redwood forests can increase underground
water supplies are included in the court files, including publications
by UC Davis, Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and the American
Water Resources Association.
studies conclude that fog drip can add from 20 to 35 inches of water
a year to the underground aquifer. At Joy Road, the 13-acre forest
could be providing as much as 40 percent of the area's annual rainfall,
the Joy Road and the Mill Creek lawsuits obtained temporary restraining
orders and are not seeking permanent injunctions to halt logging
until the cases can be heard in court.#
2006- Update on the lawsuit: The homeowners on Joy Road won
their lawsuit in Superior Court in July and the trees have not been
cut. CDF appealed the decision and the court upheld the decision
on behalf of the Joy Road residents. This is a great win for our