EPA wades in on Delta’s future

SAN FRANCISCO
August 28, 2012 9:00pm
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•  Releases ‘action plan’ to address toxins and stressors that harm fish

•  Says curbing pollution and restoring freshwater flows are keys

Jared Blumenfeld

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released what it calls an “action plan” that proposes seven measures for improving water quality, restoring aquatic habitat, and improving the management of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary.

Initial reaction from one conservation group was cautiously positive.

The EPA has said that existing federal and state water quality programs are not adequately safeguarding the ecosystem of the Delta, the largest estuary on the west coast of the western hemisphere.

“California’s economic security depends on a healthy Bay Delta,” says Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “By upholding the goals of the Clean Water Act, we can ensure that our water is fit for drinking, farming, recreation, and for fish and wildlife.”

At first read, the EPA’s plan has gotten a cautious thumbs up from one of the conservation groups that has been deeply involved in the legal and political fighting over the Delta for years.

“My initial impression is that it is a long over-due and welcome re-involvement of EPA in Bay-Delta issues. They acknowledge that current Clean Water Act programs are not adequately protecting aquatic resources in the Bay Delta Estuary. I assume by that they're also acknowledging their failure to adequately monitor the State and Regional Board's failure to implement the Act's provisions,” says Bill Jennings, chairman and executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

The EPA says its plan prioritizes seven actions to be pursued in partnership with the State Water Resources Control Board, the Regional Water Boards for the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, a.

They are:

• By 2013, propose a standard to curb selenium discharges from cities, farms, and oil refineries;

• By 2013, achieve organophosphate pesticide water quality goals in Sacramento County urban streams;

• By 2014, set new estuarine habitat standards, including salinity, to improve conditions for aquatic life;

• By 2017 establish a monitoring and assessment program for water quality in the Delta;

• Ensure that EPA’s pesticide regulation program more fully considers the effects that pesticides have on aquatic life;

• Restore and rebuild wetlands and floodplains to sequester drinking water contaminants, methylmercury, and greenhouse gases and make the Delta more resilient to floods, earthquakes, and climate change;

• Support the development and implementation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

“The issues they've identified as needing improvement are welcome but are only a subset of issues that urgently need improvement,” says Mr. Jennings. “And I'm curious as to what they mean by advocating support for the BDCP, which after all, is essentially a peripheral diversion project masquerading as a habitat conservation plan.”

The Bay Delta is the hub of California’s water distribution system, providing drinking water to 25 million people, sustaining irrigation for 4 million acres of farmland, and supporting 750 different species of plants, fish, and wildlife. The health of the ecosystem has been degraded over time by many factors, including the destruction of rivers and wetlands; the diversion of freshwater flows by federal and state water projects; the discharge of heavy metals, pesticides and nutrients; and the invasion and spread of non-native weeds and animals. Fish populations have dwindled, and water supplies critical to public health and agriculture are at risk, the EPA says.


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