EPA to Study Impacts of Contaminants on the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary

On February 10, 2011, EPA Region 9 issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Water Quality Challenges in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary ("Advanced Notice") (pdf).  EPA is not proposing any specific Clean Water Act ("CWA") rulemaking at this time.  Instead, EPA proposes to assess "the effectiveness of current programs designed to protect water quality and aquatic species habitat in the San Francisco Bay / Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in California . . . ."  Fact Sheet (pdf).  According to EPA Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, EPA is soliciting public comment to assist EPA in "trying to identify gaps in state and federal water quality programs" that may affect, among other things, aquatic species such as salmon and delta smelt that have been listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and/or the California Endangered Species Act.

According to Blumenfeld: "In particular, we are looking at the effects of pesticides, ammonia and selenium on the estuarine habitat.  Pesticides – whether applied indoors or outdoors to control rodents, insects and weeds – can reach the Delta and harm fish and humans alike.  Ammonia from sewage treatment plants and fertilizers adds excessive nitrogen to the water, inhibiting the growth of plant plankton at the base of the food web.  Selenium is a naturally occurring element, but irrigation runoff and oil refinery discharges can increase its concentrations to toxic levels."

According to EPA, further study is needed because "[p]resent water quality in the Bay Delta Estuary reflects the cumulative and interactive effects of multiple physical, chemical and biological stressors, including sewage flows, storm water discharges, agricultural return flows, urban and agricultural pesticide application, water diversions, habitat degradation and non-native species."

EPA intends to use the comments to make recommendations for future actions that compliment other actions in the Delta, such as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, the Delta Actions Resolution jointly adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board and the Central Valley and San Francisco Regional Water Quality Conrol Boards, and the recent, controversial wastewater discharge permit (pdf) issued by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board which imposes more stringent limits on the discharge of ammonia from the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant into the Sacramento River.

Comments can be submitted at the Federal Rulemaking Portal (www.regulations.gov) identified by docket EPA-R09-OW-210-0976 or by sending hardcopy to Erin Foresman, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA 94105.

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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