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EPA diving into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

February 10, 2011 | 12:00 am

Urban water agencies and Central Valley irrigation districts hit by pumping cutbacks in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have long groused that federal regulators are obsessed with the effects of the big pumps that send water south and haven't paid enough attention to myriad other stresses on the delta environment.

Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signaled that it is turning its attention to those other factors and may step up regulation of pollutants contributing to the delta's ecological collapse.

"We are looking at those stressors," said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA's regional administrator. “Are there things that should be done at the state, local and federal level that currently aren’t? Are there things that EPA should be doing that we currently are not?"

The agency released an 84-page overview of delta problems that is the first step in possibly issuing new regulations. Among the pollutants highlighted in the report are Sacramento's sewage discharges, urban pesticide runoff and selenium in farm drainage.

“There are currently 14 tons a day of ammonia coming from the Sacramento wastewater treatment facility," Blumenfeld said. "Making sure that gets dealt with is incredibly important.”

A regional water quality board recently adopted new discharge limits for the Sacramento plant, but local officials have complained vehemently about the cost of meeting the new standards.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the EPA document, which has no regulatory effect. The agency hopes to decide by the end of the year if it will propose new rules to address the delta woes.

Native fish populations have collapsed in the delta, triggering endangered-species protections that have reduced water shipments to San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California cities. The cutbacks have been challenged in court by water agencies, which argued that pollution and invasive species were the big culprits in the fish decline, not water shipments.

RELATED:

A small fish caught in a big fuss 

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's ecological decline is breathing new life into bypass proposals

Judge dismisses delta smelt protections

-- Bettina Boxall

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