2011-10-16 "EPA: California waters show widespread pollution; Less than half meeting EPA standards" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Those bracing dips in the local lake or river may not be as healthy as they were cracked up to be judging by a new list of polluted waterways released last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Recent tests have found more toxic material, bacteria and pollution in California rivers, streams, bays and lakes than has ever been documented before, according to the federal agency. The study shows a 170 percent increase in the number of waterways showing toxicity in 2010 compared with 2006, the last time the study was done. Less than half of the state's lakes, bays and estuaries are meeting water quality standards. "Unfortunately, the grade is not getting better. It's getting worse. At the moment it is a failing grade," said Jared Blumenfeld, the administrator for the EPA's Pacific Southwest region. "The public needs to use the information to make sure state, local and regional governments fix these eminently fixable problems."
The Clean Water Act requires states to monitor and assess their waterways and submit a list of impaired waters to EPA for review. The list of impaired waterways included sloughs, tributaries and water diversion outlets along the Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers.
The list was compiled using 22,000 data submissions from counties, cities and the various regional water quality control boards. That's substantially more information than was available in 2006, Blumenfeld said. The sheer amount of data is probably one reason for the increase, but "we all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work because the problem is worse than we thought it was."
The study showed that EPA water quality standards are not being met on 1.6 million acres of California's 3 million acres of lakes, bays, wetlands and estuaries. Federally mandated cleanup plans have not been submitted for 1.4 million acres, according to the report.
The EPA study also showed that 30,000 of the state's 215,000 miles of shoreline, streams and rivers do not meet the water quality goals. Cleanup plans still need to be prepared for 20,000 of those miles, according to the report.
Pesticides and bacteria were the most common pollutants found in the waterways followed by metals and too many nutrients, mostly from runoff.
Instances of excessive trash in the water increased 76 percent and the number of fish with levels of mercury and other toxins too high for human consumption increased 24 percent between 2006 and 2010.
Pesticide pollution increased 36 percent and bacteria levels reached unsafe levels for swimming on more beaches, both inland and coastal, than in 2006. Most of the increases were attributed to higher levels of reporting.
New portions of the San Joaquin River were added to this year's list after temperature and salinity increases were detected, potentially imperiling salmon and trout populations.
"Now that we have numbers, we can improve them," Blumenfeld said. "The goal is to use that information to make things better."
For more information
The EPA's full list of impaired waterways can be found at: [http://www.epa.gov/region9/mediacenter/impaired-waters/].
For information on pollution and toxics measurements, or "Total Maximum Daily Loads", visit EPA website: [http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/cwa/tmdl/index.cfm].
Oakland's Lake Merritt is on the EPA's polluted waters list.
Credit: Tomas Ovalle / Special to The Chronicle