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Contamination of Waterways Increases in California

(Beyond Pesticides, October 19, 2011) The latest water pollution data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 9 office shows considerable increases of chemical pollution, including pesticides, in California water bodies. According to the report, which gathered monitoring data for 2008-2010, more than half of the state’s water bodies do not meet existing water quality goals and many still need federal pollution control standards. While federal officials maintain that the increases are due to improved monitoring and not new pollution, the data presents a more accurate representation of real world contamination.

California’s list of impaired waters, finalized last week, shows significant increases compared with the 2006 list. According to the report, “Of the total 3 million acres of lakes, bays, estuaries and wetlands in the state, 1.6 million acres are not meeting water quality goals and of these 1.4 million acres still needs total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) to be set. Of the total 215,000 miles of rivers, streams and shoreline, 30,000 miles are not meeting water quality goals and of these 20,000 miles still need TMDLs. While more than 50% of the lakes, bays, estuaries and wetlands acres have been assessed, less than 20% of the coastline, rivers and stream miles have been assessed.”

Overall, waters with toxic pollution increased 170%, with the number of waterways contaminated by pesticides increasing by 36%. The number of waters inhabited by fish unsafe to eat is 24% higher, with mercury being the highest violator. The new information on fish prompted the state to issue advisories warning the public of the risks of consuming fish from certain lakes. Many of the pollutants causing impairment are no longer manufactured, such as DDT, and are slowly decreasing in concentration over time. Other issues include areas where bacteria levels are unsafe for swimmers, which climbed to a 90% increase and trash increased by 76%.

Under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), a list of impaired water bodies must be assembled by states and other authorized entities every two years. Waters that are not meeting requirements even with pollution controls and other water quality standards must be identified and prioritized for additional monitoring and development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for waters on the 303(d) List. More than 1,000 waterways are deemed “impaired” by pollution of one kind or another. “To me it was fairly shocking,” EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said of the new figures. “That really does speak to the enormity of the problem in front of us.” However, federal officials maintain that much of this increase is due to more thorough monitoring required under the State’s Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, which requires the agricultural community to limit pollutants in their discharges and conduct monitoring. California used 22,000 data sets to compile the new tally, seven times the number reviewed for the previous listing.

California’s new water data exemplifies the need for continued vigilance against chemical contamination of our nation’s waters. Specifically, the data shows that water pollution has been going underreported and underestimated for decades, with this new data more closely reflecting the state’s pollution problem. The Clean Water Act is the nation’s statue that oversees protections for surface waters from various types of pollution. Unfortunately, a recent series of Congressional and industry attacks on the CWA threaten to undermine the limited protections in place for waterways.

So far a staggering 125 pieces of legislation have been introduced by the House of Representatives to undermine environmental laws. The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 or H.R. 872 already passed by the House earlier this year and was voted out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, would revoke EPA’s authority to require permits for pesticide discharges into waterways. Soon after H.R. 872 was passed, the Republican-controlled chamber passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, H.R. 2018. This bill would prevent EPA from stepping in to enforce clean water standards when it deemed that a state agency was not effectively enforcing the law. It would also prevent EPA from refining its existing water standards to reflect the latest science without first getting approval from a state agency. In addition, over 70 amendments to significantly curtail environmental regulation in the 2012 Department of the Interior and the EPA spending bill (H.R. 2584) were added to an appropriations bill. Most recently, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) tried to attach an amendment to a China currency bill in the Senate which sought to strip protections against pesticide contamination from CWA. The amendment was not taken up.

Industry sponsors of these bills say that the clean water requirements are “duplicative regulations” which would “unnecessarily burden” farmers and small businesses. They have spoken out against EPA and its efforts to regulate chemical pollution. However, the potentially high cost of public health problems, environmental cleanup efforts, and irreversible ecological damage that could result in the removal of this permitting process has not been considered. The reality is that this permitting process forces the pesticide users to seek alternative approaches to pest management if their current methods are going to contaminate nearby sources of water.

Thousands of waterways in the U.S. are impaired because of pesticide pollution and these toxic chemicals are a threat to people and wildlife. Pesticides discharged in our nation’s rivers, lakes and streams can harm or kill fish and amphibians. These toxicants also accumulate in the fish that we eat and contaminate our drinking water. By prohibiting EPA or states from regulating the discharge of pesticides into waterways through CWA, a dangerous vacuum is allowed to exist in the protection of wildlife, human health and natural systems.

Take Action!
Take action now to protect our waterways from pesticide contamination.

Source: LA Times

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


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