On 9 September 2019, CSPA and a coalition of fishing, environmental, tribal and environmental justice organizations submitted comments to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) regarding the Grasslands Bypass Project Long-Term Storm Water Management Plan EIR/EIS Addendum and Initial Study.
The Grasslands Bypass Project carries drainage wastes and stormwater discharged from 97,000 acres of farmland in the Grasslands area through the San Luis Drain to the San Joaquin River and Delta Estuary. The discharges are highly polluted and exceed water quality criteria for salts, sulfates, selenium, mercury, boron and other contaminates. Selenium is highly toxic and bioaccumulates through the food chain which magnifies impacts on fish, wildlife and migratory birds. Selenium contamination in the San Joaquin River is identified as harming steelhead and green sturgeon and posing a threat to the restoration of spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon in the upper river. Mercury is also highly bioaccumulative and poses a threat to people who eat fish.
The Project began in 1995 as a two-year program and has been extended through a series of federal use agreements and lax enforcement by the Regional Board. The Project proposes another fifteen-year extension of the use agreement beginning on 2020.
The coalition letter states that: 1) an “Addendum” to the 2009 EIR/EIS is insufficient and that a full EIR/EIS is required; 2) a federal NPDES permit for the discharge is necessary; 3) protective water quality criteria must apply; 4) the Drainage Reuse Area is an illegal disposal site and must not be expanded and 5) that the proposed stormwater detention basins are another “Kesterson in the making.” Additionally, the letter points out that attempts at treatment have not been effective, that the project has no long-term viability or legality and that land retirement should be considered as a viable alternative.