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EPA prepares to wade into the Bay-Delta

Holly Doremus, professor of law | February 16, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced “an information-gathering process on how the EPA and the State of California can achieve water quality and aquatic resource protection goals” in the California Bay-Delta. EPA is not proposing any new regulations yet, but it is seeking public comment on what it might do to address water quality conditions in the Bay-Delta that affect aquatic species. It is considering not just regulatory changes, but changes in “enforcement, research, revisions in water quality standards, etc.”

(The Federal Register notice is here, and EPA’s longer “unabridged” version, which is essentially a report on water quality concerns in the Bay-Delta, is here.)

This is definitely good news for those who want to see some action on Bay-Delta restoration. EPA is a key player in the Bay-Delta, but one that has been conspicuously absent for a number of years. EPA can bring leverage to bear on issues that are tough to address directly through the Endangered Species Act, including municipal wastewater discharges and pesticide pollution. EPA pressure to produce and implement honest water quality standards was one of the key triggers for the now-defunct CalFed process.

Of course, it remains to be seen if EPA can implement a Bay-Delta initiative. The agency faces a tough budget future at best: the White House has proposed cutting its budget by 12% for the current fiscal year (which is already nearly half over), while the Republicans in the House want cuts of three times that amount.

Also in the Continuing Resolution proposed by the House Republican leadership last week is a rider which would block implementation of fish-protection measures called for by the most recent biological opinions on the Central Valley and State Water Projects (see § 1475(a)).

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has announced her opposition to the Bay-Delta rider. (Hat tip: Aquafornia.) But Feinstein is not exactly a robust vote for letting science drive water delivery decisions. Last year, she floated a proposal to exempt Bay-Delta water deliveries from the ESA. Her chief objection to the current proposal is apparently that it does not go far enough. From her press release:

Water pumped out of the Delta is shared by federal and state water users. The bill’s language would prohibit federal users from limiting their share, so state users — including Southern California farmers and cities—could be forced to give up a significant portion of their water supply to compensate.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “EPA prepares to wade into the Bay-Delta

    • Thanks Gavin, California’s water supply failures are out of control.

      It is time to find a new culture of leadership because all of our existing institutions have failed to meet the challenges of change due to dinosaur class Us/Them divisions within and between our institutions that are destroying our civilization.

      Berkeley professors and scholars are in the best position to provide leadership to accelerate the implementation of changes that will end the era of destruction we live in today.

      If we fail, future generations shall face unacceptable quality of life problems that are much worse than all that we live with today. We must accept the responsibility to fix the cultural problems that continue to destroy their future.

  1. Thank you Prof. Doremus, everyone seems to be looking the other way instead of doing anything to protect California water supplies from declining availability due to climate change and political failures, as well as increasing pollution of existing supplies.

    Failure to protect and increase clean water supplies to meet the needs of our increasing population and food supply needs is a continuing, out of control disaster in the making in California.

    And the tragedy is that no one is doing anything close to providing enough desalination of ocean water to prevent calamity within decades.

    CALIFORNIA magazine’s September/October 2006 “Global Warning” Special Issue included a lot of California specific articles about ongoing and increasing global warming calamities but nobody is doing anything to protect Californians from the ongoing climate change consequences we are experiencing today.

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