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State Water Board Launches Another Assault on Delta Water Quality
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Jun 10th, 2009 11:16 AM
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's State Water Resources Control Board is yet again discarding long-existing regulations protecting water quality (and fisheries) in order to protect the Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from their continuing violations of the Public Trust and Bay-Delta water quality standards, according to this report from Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

Photo of Bill Jennings, speaking out for fish and the Delta, courtesy of CSPA.
jennings.jpg
State Water Board Launches Another Assault on Delta Fisheries and Water Quality

by Bill Jennings, Executive Director, CSPA

June 9, 2009 -- The State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) is yet again discarding long-existing regulations protecting water quality (and fisheries) in order to protect the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) from their continuing violations of the Public Trust and Bay-Delta water quality standards.

This despicable charade is another poster-child of why the Schwarzenegger administration's “assurances,” “guarantees,” “promises,” and even “regulations” aren't worth a warm bucket of spit. CSPA is prepared to go to the mat in opposing this blatant effort to immunize DWR and the Bureau from the law.

The State Board has issue a Notice of Public Hearing to determine whether to modify Order WR 2006-0006 that, in part, adopted a Cease and Desist Order (C&D) against the DWR and the Bureau. Notices of Intent to participate in the expedited evidentiary hearing are due by 19 June, testimony and evidence circulated to hearing participants by 22 June and the hearing will occur on 25 June. CSPA will participate fully in the hearing by direct testimony, evidence, cross-examination and rebuttal.

The State Board adopted delta salinity standards in 1978 and reaffirmed them in 1995 and 2006. The salt standards were set at levels protective of Delta agriculture; however, the standards also serve to protect the aquatic ecosystem. The DWR/Bureau, who operate the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP), were assigned responsibility for meeting the standards because Delta salinity is controlled by SWP/CVP export pumping, salt loading via export pumping and releases of water from upstream project reservoirs. CSPA participated in those hearings.

The salinity standards have been routinely exceeded over the last 30 years. In 2006, the State Board finally issued a C&D against DWR and the Bureau over salinity violations. Despite repeated subsequent violations, the State Board has refused to enforce the 2006 Order. CSPA testified in the C&D hearing.

Part of the Order also required DWR and the Bureau to take corrective actions under a time schedule to obviate the threat of noncompliance with their permit and license conditions. The C&D Order stated, “Considering that the objectives were first adopted in the water quality control plan in 1978, and there is evidence that salinity is a factor in limiting crop yields for southern Delta agriculture, the State Water Board will not extend the date for removing the threat of non-compliance beyond July 1, 2009.” The State Water Board is apparently now willing to bail DWR/Bureau out by eliminating that requirement.

The C&D Order described options that DWR/Bureau could take to eliminate salinity violations. They include additional releases of water from upstream CVP facilities or south of the Delta SWP & CVP facilities, modification in the timing of releases from SWP/CVP facilities, reduction in exports, recirculation of water through the San Joaquin River, purchases or exchanges of water under transfers from other entities, modified operation of temporary barriers, reductions in highly saline drainage from upstream sources or alternative supplies to Delta farmers.

DWR/Bureau rejected alternatives that would include reduced exports, increased flow and control of highly saline wastewaters from the western side of the San Joaquin Valley. Instead, they proposed to construct permanent gate structures (operable barriers) in the southern Delta (as part of the South Delta Improvement Project).

However, it became obvious by early 2007 that the gate structures (barriers) faced huge problems and would be delayed and likely would never be constructed. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) expressed serious concerns about the project's effects of fish and wildlife. In fact the recently released Biological Opinion from NMFS on Delta operations states that DWR shall not implement the South Delta Improvement Project and barriers because the project would adversely modify critical habitat and NMFS has not identified an alternative to the permanent gates that meets the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act.

Rather than enforce the C&D and require DWR/Bureau to implement measures from the many available identified options that would ensure compliance with water quality salinity standards, the State Board has scheduled a hearing to consider modifying the C&D to immunize the DWR/Bureau from their repeated violations.

CSPA will take part in this sham of a hearing and, if necessary, will litigate to protect water quality and hold Schwarzenegger's State Water Board accountable to the law. Enough is enough!

For more information, go to: http://www.calsport.org.