Report: California’s oceans, rivers more toxic than ever

  • Published on October 12th, 2011

chinook salmonCalifornia has a “green” reputation throughout the country, but a new report on polluted waters reveals that the toxicity of California rivers, lakes and coastal waters has increased dramatically since 2006.

The alarming list, submitted by the state of California to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and finalized by the agency yesterday, reveals that more of California’s waterways are impaired than previously known. Increased water monitoring data shows the number of rivers, streams and lakes in California exhibiting overall toxicity have increased 170 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to Nahal Mogharabi, spokesman for the California EPA, in a news release.

“California has some of the most magnificent rivers, lakes and coastal waters in the country,” according to Mogharabi. “However, of its 3.0 million acres of lakes, bays, wetlands and estuaries, 1.6 million acres are not meeting water quality goals, and 1.4 million acres still need a pollution clean-up plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).”

Of the 215,000 miles of shoreline, streams and rivers, 30,000 miles are not meeting water quality goals, and 20,000 miles still need a TMDL. The most common contaminants in these waterways are pesticides and bacteria, followed by metals and nutrients.

The report was released at a time when the state is moving forward with the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called “marine protected areas” off the California coast. These “marine protected areas,” in a clear example of corporate greenwashing, fail to protect coastal waters from pollution, oil spills and drilling, corporate aquaculture, military testing, wave and wind energy projects and all other human impacts upon the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The report also follows on the heels of a June decision by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board to continue granting agribusiness “permits to pollute” Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley waterways in a controversial agricultural waiver program.

“Clean water is vital to California’s public health, economy, recreation and wildlife,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “California has done an excellent job of increasing the amount of water monitored. Unfortunately, much of the new data points in the wrong direction. This list of impaired waters is a wake-up call to continue the critical local and statewide work needed to heal California’s damaged waters.“

The Clean Water Act requires states to monitor and assess their waterways and submit a list of impaired waters to EPA for review, according to Mogharabi. The 2010 list is based on more comprehensive monitoring as well as new assessment tools that allow the state to evaluate larger quantities of data.

Next page: Toxic trends

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.
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  • EPA’s water pollution regulations violate the Clean Water Act, as they ignore 60% of the pollution in sewage Congress intended to ‘treat’ under the Act. Among this waste is nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste besides exerting an oxygen demand also is a fertilizer for algae, thus contributes to dead zones.(
    All this is caused by a faulty applied test, EPA used to set NPDES treatment standards, while EPA already in 1984 acknowledged the problems caused by this test, it ever since refused to correct the test. In 1987, of the record, EPA stated that the test and regulations should be corrected, but that this was impossible as it would require a re-education and re-tooling of an entire industry.
    In a recent White House petition the Obama Adminstration is asked to demand that EPA correct this test and finnaly after 40 years implement the CWA as was intended and possible.