Fishermen Succeed in First Round of Battles to Force State and Federal Officials to Comply with the Clean Water Act on the San Joaquin River and SF Bay Delta Estuary

Fishermen score a victory in protecting California’s water

September 3, 2012-  The Institute for Fisheries Resources’s sister organization, The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), along side member group San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association and conservation groups won the first round in their attempt to get state and federal officials to follow water quality laws and comply with the Clean Water Act. For years West side Irrigators have been dumping their selenium pollution into the San Joaquin River and SF Bay Delta Estuary without required pollution control permits.

On Friday August 31, 2012, the Eastern District Court, ruled this selenium polluted ground water being discharged into the sloughs, San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary is subject to the pollution control provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Since 1996 San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority and USBR have been allowed to discharge Selenium into the sloughs, San Joaquin River and Delta in excess of Clean Water Act water quality protection standards without required permits. Recently in 2010 they sought and obtained another approximate decade long extension.

The dischargers argued they do not need to comply with the Clean Water Act pollution control measures because they are exempted under an irrigated return flow provision. The court denied this reasoning. Selenium bioaccumulates in plant and animal tissue causing deformities and birth defects. After cows were found to be dying and deformities in migratory birds and ducks, Secretary Hodel feared that the federal government would be sued for killing wildlife in direct violation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act and closed the drains from the west side of the San Joaquin Valley into Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in 1985. Despite this closure, irrigators sought and obtained a “temporary” permit to go around water pollution control laws in 1996. This series of exemptions is being challenged in federal court.

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