EPA Promises Improvements for California Bay Delta Region

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced a plan to improve water quality, restore aquatic habitat, and improve the management of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced a plan to improve water quality, restore aquatic habitat, and improve the management of the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary.

The plan prioritizes 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 other state and federal agencies.

By 2013, the groups will propose a standard to curb selenium discharges from cities, farms, and oil refineries. They also will set organophosphate pesticide water quality goals in Sacramento County urban streams.

By 2014, they will set new estuarine habitat standards, including salinity, to improve conditions for aquatic life. They also will establish a monitoring and assessment program for water quality in the Delta.

The groups also will ensure that EPA's pesticide regulation program fully considers the effects that pesticides have on aquatic life; restore wetlands and floodplains to sequester drinking water contaminants, methylmercury, and make the Delta more resilient to floods, earthquakes, and climate change; and support the development and implementation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

EPA said 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," EPA said.

Everglades Preservation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetlands Reserve Program has announced $80 million in additional funding to support farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve 23,000 aces of wetlands on agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed.

Part of the funding will go to preserve 1,278-acre piece of land in Glades County that is a key corridor for the endangered Florida panther.

The Obama administration also issued a report noting its efforts to protect the Everglades. It said the federal government recently has spent $1.5 billion on Everglades projects and initiatives, including nearly $900 million to jump start key construction projects that will restore water flow and essential habitat. The administration has requested an additional $246 million in the fiscal 2013 budget to continue the Everglades work.

In one recent project, $130 million was spent to restore more than 3,000 acres of floodplains along the Kissimmee River, the largest restoration project undertaken by the Corps of Engineers to date.

The administration said that since 2009 it has worked with landowners to improve habitat and water quality on more than 400,000 agricultural acres; begun constructing the first mile of bridging for the Tamiami Trail to restore water flow to Everglades National Park; begun implementing key components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to make more water available for environmental, urban and agricultural use; and reached an agreement with the state to commit $879 million for water quality projects.

Surface Mining

The Sierra Club said that for the first time, environmental groups are suing to ensure that the owners of lands formerly used as surface mines are held accountable to Clean Water Act (CWA) protections.

A coalition of citizen and environmental groups sued in Western Virginia U.S. District Court, claiming that Penn Virginia Resource Partners is violating CWA protections at seven former surface mining sites in Wise County, Va. The Radnor, Pa., company owns more than 5500 acres of land in the county.

"The fact that there are still major pollution problems at these sites shows that the environmental destruction caused by mountaintop removal mining continues long after mining operations are concluded," said Glen Besa, Director of the Sierra Club, Virginia Chapter.

The environmental groups said because the ultimate source of the pollution comes from valley fills and other material that remains on site, abandoned, and even reclaimed, mined sites continue to discharge pollution. They said the owners of former mine sites do not have CWA discharge permits.

Separately, the Sierra Club was one of several groups to sue Alpha Natural Resources over alleged pollution from nine West Virginia coal mines.

The groups said the mines in Logan, McDowell, Boone, and Kanawha counties violate CWA and Surface Mining laws regarding selenium pollution from mountaintop removal or traditional mines and associated facilities.

Last December the groups reached a settlement with Alpha regarding selenium pollution at three facilities. That settlement required Alpha to treat the selenium pollution at an estimated cost of more than $50 million and to pay penalties of $4.5 million. Since then, the groups said they discovered selenium pollution at the latest nine sites.

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