Curbing pollution and restoring freshwater flows key to improving water quality
SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an Action Plan today that proposes seven measures for improving water quality, restoring aquatic habitat, and improving the management of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary. The release of the Action Plan follows the agency’s analysis concluding that existing federal and state water quality programs are not adequately safeguarding the ecosystem.
“California’s economic security depends on a healthy Bay Delta,” said 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.”
The Action Plan responds to findings and recommendations made following EPA’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2011 that sought public input on the effectiveness of existing federal and state water quality protection programs. The Action Plan prioritizes the following 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, and numerous other state and federal agencies:
- 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 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.
Forty years ago, against the backdrop of fires on the Cuyahoga River, the Santa Barbara oil spill and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the federal Clean Water Act was made law. At the time, Congress charged a fledgling EPA with the goal of making the nation’s waters “fishable and swimmable.” While the agency has made great progress toward that goal, complex problems, such as those facing the restoration of the Bay Delta, still need attention.