Not above the law after all

Fishing and conservation groups have 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.

Selenium in agricultural water discharges from the west side of the San Joaquin Valley has been a problem since 1985, when cow deaths and migratory bird deformities led to the closing of drains into the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. But dischargers have argued that they don’t need to comply with Clean Water Act pollution control measures because they are exempted under an irrigated return flow provision.

Since 1996, San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority and the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation have been allowed to discharge selenium into the sloughs, the San Joaquin Rivers, and the Delta in excess of Clean Water Act water quality protection standards and without required permits. They’ve been granted a series of exemptions, with the most recent decade-long extension granted in 2010.

Last Friday August 31, 2012, the Eastern District Court, ruled this selenium polluted ground water is subject to the pollution control provisions of the Clean Water Act.

The problem of selenium pollution might have gotten more public attention if we’d had pictures like those of the two-headed trout in Idaho. It appears that there ARE photos, somewhere, that confirm classic selenium-caused bird deformities in the Grassland Bypass Project area on the west side. The photos were provided to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the authors of a monitoring report. But they seem to have disappeared.

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