San Joaquin River DOTMDL -- Technical Working Group

S.J. River fine is rabbits' gain; $204K for habitat will help Manteca pay pollution bill

Stockton Record - August 18, 2005
By Dana Nichols

S.J. River fine is rabbits' gain; $204K for habitat will help Manteca pay pollution bill
Stockton Record 8/18/05
By Dana Nichols, staff writer

Manteca will likely pay off part of its fine for polluting the San Joaquin River by building habitat for endangered rabbits a few miles upstream.

Under a deal posted online Wednesday, Manteca will pay $204,000 to plant bushes including blackberry vines and to install drip irrigation to water the vines along two miles of an abandoned levee in the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

The city is on the hook for $478,000 for dozens of incidents from January 2000 through January 2005 in which its municipal sewage treatment plant dumped pollutants into the San Joaquin River at levels that violated the city's pollution permit. The dense vegetation planted on levee tops will give the rabbits safe places to hide during floods, said Kim Forrest, manager of the refuge.

"This is taking a bunch of money and really putting it to fabulous use," Forrest said. "There will be an immediate benefit to endangered species and migratory birds.

Work at the refuge is helping to bring the rabbits back from the brink of extinction, Forrest said. In 2002, biologists believed that there were fewer than 200 of the rabbits left alive, all in San Joaquin County.

But that year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service breeding program introduced some of the bunnies to the San Joaquin River refuge in Stanislaus County.
Biologists think the floods in 1997 wiped out many of the riparian brush rabbits.

The rabbits like to stay under cover and may refuse to escape a flood by going to an open levee top where they can easily be picked off by hawks.

Forrest said the habitat restoration project creates places where the rabbits can hide above high water. Manteca officials Wednesday did not return calls asking for comment.

The proposed settlement will go to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board for formal approval at the board's meeting Sept. 15 and 16. The board's Web site has information on the plan, which is listed under San Joaquin County.

James Marshall, a water resources control engineer for the board, said Manteca's proposal meets state standards for an alternative fine payment.

State rules require such alternative payments to have some connection to the violation that triggered the fine, he said.

"We thought that this habitat restoration project is within the Delta, and they are discharging to the Delta, so we saw the nexus there," Marshall said. #

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