For comment please contact: Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, 209-938-9053 and/or Carolee Krieger, California Water Impact Network, 805-969-0824
After a federal study warns San Joaquin River’s toxic agricultural wastewater load too high, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation bans representatives of fishing and environmental groups from meetings of agency team tasked with monitoring toxic discharges. Groups issue joint letter to Reclamation protesting exclusion.
Late Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation barred representatives of downstream communities from meetings of a group tasked with monitoring toxin selenium discharges from western San Joaquin Valley agricultural wastewater into the San Joaquin River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and San Francisco Bay. The move came on the heels of a new U.S. Geological Survey study indicating that toxic selenium discharges into the San Joaquin River need to be up to 50 times smaller than the current water quality objectives. New federal documents also indicate toxic selenium pollution already exceeds legally safe water quality objectives in water below the federal export pumps in the Delta Mendota Pool.
The barred representatives filed a protest letter today. The fishing, conservation, and community representatives were originally granted access to the now-barred meetings in commitments made before the State Water Resources Control Committee leading up to the granting of a decade-long pollution waiver for the San Joaquin’s toxic selenium dischargers. The Board granted the pollution waiver extension with the understanding there would be public participation in the monitoring process. This change in the participation policy alters a material condition upon which granting the permit was based. According to the excluded groups, no rationale was provided as to why these meetings suddenly need to be held in secret, held behind closed doors, excluding only selected members of the public, while others are granted access.
In the 1980s, the San Joaquin’s toxic selenium problem drew national attention when tainted runoff sparked die-offs and grotesque deformities among waterfowl and other wildlife within the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. In small doses, selenium acts as a beneficial nutrient for humans and other animals, but in higher doses can cause serious health problems or death.