The San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary is on the brink of environmental disaster. The fish, wildlife, drinking water, and the many other uses it provides are all declining due to massive water exports. An outdated 20-year-old Water Quality Control Plan allows more than half the water needed for the delta’s ecological health to be diverted away for unsustainable Big Agriculture on the west and south San Joaquin Valley.
Right now, one or more runs of salmon, which support the state’s declining salmon industry, delta smelt, sturgeon, and other species that are listed under the federal and/or state Endangered Species Act are closer to extinction (potentially as early as summer of 2016) than ever before, and other species could soon be added to the list. Warm and stagnant water in the SF Bay-Delta is leading to the emergence of toxic algae (known to cause liver cancer), which threaten cities and recreational users. Salt water intrusion coming in from the Bay due to lack of freshwater flows increasingly threatens the SF Bay-Delta’s $5.2 billion annual agricultural economy.
The estuary can’t wait any longer for new standards that improve flows and protect our water quality. New water quality standards that truly protect communities and species is a proactive step that helps ensure reliable water supplies for all users of the Bay-Delta, whether they are cities or farmers in southern California or northern California, because they set the threshold for sustainable exports of water from the estuary.
Join residents of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary and concerned Californians who are asking the State Water Board to “Save the Bay or Get Out of the Way.” Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government delegates the setting of protective water quality standards to the states – that means if California can’t get the job done in time, it’s up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get the job done.
USEPA Administrator – Region 9
75 Hawthorne St #11
San Francisco, CA 94105
SUBJECT: NEW BAY-DELTA WATER QUALITY STANDARDS URGENTLY NEEDED
Dear Administrator Blumenfeld:
The US Environmental Protection Agency knows that the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary is in big trouble – in August 2012 your office, Region 9, published the “Bay Delta Action Plan” which acknowledged that freshwater flow alteration was one of the most important challenges to the estuary’s health and identified the timely adoption and implementation of new water quality standards by the State Water Resources Control as one of the most important actions that could be done to solve the problem. Your agency expected those standards, adopted in 1995 by the State of California, to be done by mid-2014.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, the Board is supposed to review the standards every three years. But despite the best available science identified by the Board, your agency, and fish and wildlife managers, showing that the 1995 standards are not adequate to protect the estuary, despite the fact that native fish species are declining at record or near-record levels, despite the emergence of new threats to human health like toxic algae, the Board has again pushed back the completion of the standards update to late 2018 – and its track record of meeting deadlines is abysmal. It is entirely possible that 2018 will be too late to save several fish species from extinction and to protect public health from further degradation of Delta waterways.
The status quo is bad enough, but new projects could make things even worse. It is imperative that up to date water quality and flows standards are set before moving forward with approval of such projects, like permitting the construction of new Delta tunnels, also known as the California Water Fix, is even considered.
US EPA delegates the setting of water quality to the states – it is time NOW to take back that responsibility since California’s State Water Board cannot be relied upon to do the job.
Please set a deadline for the Board to complete its update, and be prepared to set federal standards if the state once again fails to meet the deadline. Fish and wildlife are in danger of steep decline and even extinction, and water quality remains at high risk if we wait until 2018 or later. The future of the greatest estuary on the west coast of the Americas depends on immediate action.