Martis plan flawed, incomplete
July 3, 2003
Anglers familiar with Martis Creek Reservoir believe the lake is changing, and not for the better. Algae have been getting thicker over the years, they say, and aren’t dying off in winter. Milfoil, an aquatic plant, infests the inlet and coves along the shore, reducing access to open water. And most grievous, most insulting: the fishing is off. Where are the trophy-sized trout? In fact, where are the trout, period? Surveys by the Department of Fish and Game confirm that catch rates have fallen dramatically over the last half decade.
Not surprisingly, anglers point their fingers toward the houses and golf courses upstream from the reservoir, saying this is where the problems originate, with excessive nutrients flowing into the lake’s tributaries from land development and landscaping. And these anglers may be right, but the blunt truth is that there simply isn’t enough data to conclude that the poor state of the trout fishery is caused by the Lahontan subdivision, by Northstar, or by any other source. The reason we have scant data is because water-quality testing in Martis Valley occurs on an extremely infrequent basis.
The lack of adequate water-quality and fishery monitoring is especially worrisome to anglers because plans for Martis Valley call for thousands more homes and at least three additional golf courses. Although the current draft of the Martis Valley Community Plan now includes several policies that state Placer County will protect the lake’s sportfishery as the area develops (added only after fly anglers initiated a letter-writing campaign), these policies ring hollow given that the plan’s Environmental Impact Report includes no substantive discussion of the lake and its fish, assumes away impacts, and makes errors of fact, errors of omission, and errors in findings. It’s a document that dissembles rather than discloses.
Worse yet, the water-quality monitoring called for in the EIR would take place in a geographically piecemeal manner, thereby missing cumulative impacts across tributaries and entirely ignoring the effects of development-related pollution on Martis Creek Reservoir.
The lake can still be saved, however, and the first step is simple. The Martis Valley Community Plan needs to include a program to thoroughly monitor water quality throughout the valley and fishery health in the lake (a recommendation echoed by the California Department of Fish and Game, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the Nevada County Fish and Wildlife Commission). A well-designed monitoring program will tell us if erosion- and pollution-control practices are working, will indicate whether creeks or the lake are being harmed, and, by identifying the probable sources of impacts, will allow us to deal with them early and efficiently.
Implementation of a valley-wide impact-monitoring program, financed by development, is certainly affordable given the scope of the Martis Valley Community Plan, and it is clearly the right thing to do. All that’s needed is political will. Developers in the Martis Valley like to profess their credibility as environmental stewards. It is time for them to step forward and protect a small lake that’s a large asset, one that has captured the hearts of anglers statewide.
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Richard Anderson is publisher and editor of California Fly Fisher magazine, headquartered in Truckee.