[env-trinity] Sac Bee 10 03 10

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Oct 4 09:24:20 PDT 2010

Irrigators may get new free pass to pollute

Sacramento Bee-10/3/10

By Jim Metropulos



Longtime residents of California may recall those 1984 pictures of birds
with twisted beaks, deformed heads and the limp, dead chicks. These birds
died by the hundreds in Kesterson Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos - one of
the state's worst wildlife disasters. 


In the decades that followed, state water officials have looked the other
way and refused to enforce the state's tough discharge selenium standards.
Kesterson Reservoir became a wake-up call. 


But no one at the State Water Resources Control Board woke up. Toxic,
selenium-contaminated agricultural drainage water still flows through the
west side of the San Joaquin Valley and into the San Joaquin River. 


And the State Water Resources Control Board is about to approve another
10-year waiver for its selenium discharge standards. That means another 10
years of toxic water headed toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta - and
our drinking water. 


For west-side irrigators, this is business as usual. And the state water
board plans to keep it that way. 


Some may view this as a blast from the past. In Kesterson, follow-up studies
documented that selenium-laced runoff from Westlands Water District lands
and other west-side irrigators produced the selenium wastewater that caused
the Kesterson disaster. Now, the state water board is about to allow one of
the state's biggest drainage polluters to keep loading selenium into our


Of course, the west-side irrigators will tell you things have changed. They
may quote their new slogan: "Dilution is Grasslands' and Westlands Water
District's solution." 


But these giant west-side agricultural powerhouses' "solution" falls far
short of fixing the problem. Selenium builds up in the bodies of plants and
animals. So while the levels of selenium vary with dilution, this toxin
builds up in the food chain and has caused bird deformities, reproduction
problems and death in wildlife. It can even threaten human health and is
known to cause symptoms as varied as hair loss, nervous-system effects, and
digestive harm. 


Let's follow the water. Bearing levels of selenium high enough to deform
wildlife and threaten drinking water, the drainage swirls past signs posted
along Mud Slough and parts of the San Joaquin River. The signs warn would-be
anglers not to eat fish caught in the toxic brew, to prevent potential birth
defects. Seeping its toxic cargo into groundwater all the way, the water
finally flows to the Merced River and empties into the Delta. 


Westlands and the other west-side irrigators are simply too politically
powerful. Westlands and these other irrigators are some of the state's
foremost proponents of a proposed peripheral canal. The federal government
has documented that the continued use of federally subsidized irrigation for
about 400,000 acres of selenium-rich soils along the west side of the valley
are causing the selenium contamination of groundwater and surface waters
spreading out from Westlands Water District and the other west-side


For years, these polluters have received a free pass as they dumped toxic
selenium into our drinking water, and harmed our fisheries and the Pacific
Flyway. The State Water Resources Control Board should deny approval of the
proposed amendment to the San Joaquin Basin Plan that would give Westlands
and these water users another decade to avoid enforcement of selenium
water-quality standards and aquatic life protections. 


These west-side irrigators need to wake up and follow the rules. 

Jim Metropulos represents the Sierra Club on statewide water and energy



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax

415 519 4810 mobile

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