Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011-02-10 "Feds May Crack Down on Delta Pollution; New rules to prevent an ecological collapse could force big changes on governments, businesses and farmers" by John Upton from "Bay Citizen" online journal[]
Central Valley farming practices, Northern California sewage plants and other government and business operations could be forcibly overhauled by the federal government in a bid to rescue a sprawling waterway from ecological collapse.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it will study the impacts of fertilizer use, industrial pollution, habitat destruction and other factors on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta system stretching to San Francisco Bay.
The study will be followed by the creation of new rules governing the waterway, which runs from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Golden Gate and provides water to 25 million Californians and 4 million acres of farmland. Debate over the new regulations is scheduled to begin next year.
“We all realize that the delta system is in crisis,” EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said.
Problems such as the growth of toxic blue-green algae, dammed rivers, changes in salt levels and invasive jellyfish have led populations of native fish, including smelt and salmon, to the brink of extinction.
Blumenfeld described the federal project as a “companion piece” to a high-profile effort under way at the state level to create a Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.
“The question is, how do we all collaborate effectively together to make sure that the individual efforts cumulatively add up to the protections that we all seek; and is the EPA doing everything it can under the Clean Water Act to protect the quality of water in the delta estuary,” Blumenfeld said.
Jon Rosenfield, a conservation biologist with The Bay Institute, said exports of water out of the delta for use by farms, homes and businesses are the biggest single factor causing native fish to disappear and allowing invasive species to thrive.
“One thing that’s going to help address all of those problems is improving freshwater flow conditions into the estauary,” Rosenfield said. “The flow will dilute chemical concentrations if they’re too high. Restoring the natural patterns of flow and availability of fresh water flow is going to help control invasive species as well.”
Rosenfield called on the EPA to consider water flow as part of its new study. Blumenfeld, however, said that various court cases are currently dealing with those issues, and that they may not be directly addressed by the EPA's new regulations.
“What we care about its getting to a place where the water quality standards are met,” he said. “Ultimately, how water goes in and out of the delta is critical and those issues are being played out” in court rooms and other venues.
The public will have two months to comment on the effectiveness of current delta management practices and agency research priorities.
“I hope they think about how these contaminants interact in the Delta,” Clean Water Action official Jennifer Clary wrote in an e-mail. “One frustrating thing about our regulatory system is that we tend to look at problems individually instead of trying to figure out how they interact in the environment.”
The state’s biggest water customers, meanwhile, called on the EPA to avoid duplicating or complicating work being done at the state level.
“EPA's announcement comes as water managers and others across the state are striving to address the Delta's serious challenges,” Association of California Water Agencies Executive Director Timothy Quinn said in a statement []. “It is incumbent on the federal government to coordinate any new EPA efforts with the BDCP process.”

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