Lawsuit filed to Stop Toxic Discharges to San Joaquin River

On 9 November 2011, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Friends of the River, Crab Boat Owners Association and retired USFWS biologist Felix Smith sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority over their failure to secure Clean Water Act permits for the discharge of massive quantities of toxic wastes to the San Joaquin River.


Press Release

Steve Evans 916-708-3155 [FOR]
Larry Collins 415-279-1894 [CBOA]
Felix Smith 916-966-2081 [Retired USFWS Biologist]
Steve Volker, 510-496-0600 [Plaintiffs Attorney]
Bill Jennings, 209-464-5067 [CSPA]

Zeke Grader, 415-606-5140 [PCFFA]
B-Roll Available:

Fishing and Conservation Groups Sue To Protect Bay-Delta Estuary from Toxic Agricultural Wastewater

San Francisco California – Fishing and conservation groups today filed suit in federal court under the Clean Water Act to stop the continuing unlawful discharges of agricultural wastewater into the San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay-Delta. The move represents the latest salvo in a decades-long battle to stop Western San Joaquin Valley agribusinesses from sending their toxic wastewater to downstream users, harming drinking water supplies, wildlife, fisheries, and farming.

“This legal action is necessary to enforce the Clean Water Act’s mandate that the Nation’s waters be both swimmable and fishable,” stated Steve Evans of Friends of the River. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision of March 17, sanctioning these selenium discharges for another 10 years, even as they continue to exceed water-quality standards, demands that citizens file suit to enforce the law.”

Chemicals in the agricultural wastewater, created by irrigating the soils of the Western San Joaquin Valley, which are laced with contaminants, have been found throughout the waterways downstream of the polluters, including at the intakes for public drinking water supplies for millions of Californians.

“The toxic wastes discharged by agribusiness into the San Joaquin River routinely exceed water quality standards and recent science demonstrates that these existing standards are insufficiently protective of health and the environment,” said Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “Failure to enforce standards is equivalent to no standards and posted warning signs along the river are an unacceptable substitute for compliance. It’s unfortunate that citizens have to step in and enforce the law, but the San Joaquin River will never be restored if we don’t control these discharges of toxic wastes.”

Selenium, the most infamous of the pollutants in question, is a highly toxic substance that contaminates the soils of hundreds of thousands of acres of the Western San Joaquin Valley. When these soils are irrigated, selenium leaches into ground and surface waters, where it is well known to accumulate and magnify in the food web as fish and wildlife feed on the toxins. High levels of selenium cause reproductive failure, increased predation, death, and deformities in fish and wildlife. The toxin also threatens human health.

“It’s been nearly three decades since I held the first deformed chick in my hands,” recalled Felix Smith, a retired United States Fish and Wildlife biologist who documented the selenium waterfowl deformities at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge and is a party to the notice letter. “Since that time I have seen state and federal water officials buckle under the political pressure and look the other way, as they refused to enforce the law to halt these poisonous discharges. Their continuing failure to act threatens to create Kesterson II, unless people wake up and demand that water quality officials enforce the law.”

“Dumping the same kind of toxic wastewater that caused the Kesterson disaster into our waterways doesn’t just threaten drinking supplies and the reproduction of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, crab and other fish – it threatens jobs.” explained Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “When the fish and crabs stop reproducing, that jeopardizes the thousands of jobs, tens of millions of pounds of seafood production, and billions of dollars of economic activity dependent on the resources provided by a healthy Bay-Delta.”

Despite this history of disaster, only 100,000 acres of toxic farmland have been retired. Taxpayer-subsidized irrigation continues on nearly 400,000 acres of selenium-contaminated soils. Worse, State and Federal officials have looked the other way for decades and refused to enforce water pollution control standards that restrict the discharge of selenium and other toxins into the San Joaquin River and other tributaries of the Bay-Delta.

“It is the Bay-Delta Estuary double whammy,” explained Larry Collins, Crab Boat Owners Association. “The irrigators want to crank up the pumping to divert fresh water, while at the same time increasing the poison dumped back into the San Joaquin River and Bay-Delta Estuary.” The federal government has documented that the continued irrigation, coupled with the irrigators’ refusal to remove this contaminant before discharging it to ground and surface waters, is causing the selenium contamination of groundwater and surface water to spread.

“The San Joaquin River and its tributaries, like Mud Slough, are a public resource, not a de facto drain to be used by these polluters to transfer their pollution to others,” stated Stephan Volker, attorney for the plaintiff groups. “The Clean Water Act demands that our water quality and aquatic life  Press Advisory Selenium Deformed Embryos Embryo Photos

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