Friday, June 23, 2006

Water, water, everywhere Nor any drop to drink.

That oft quoted line from Coleriges's Rime of the Ancient Mariner seems to describe what is going on right now in California's San Joaquin Valley. The problems seem to be too big for local governments to handle and there is a lot of money involved A good starting point for understanding just what is happening is a recent article in the Stockton Record, detailing the background of an 8 million gallon spill of partially treated sewage into the San Joaquin River, a spill that took 10 hours to identify and 3 days before the public was informed.

The key point is that this involves a private company that was given a contract to operate the water system for the City of Stockton. The company, OMI / Thames, is gaining such contracts all over the West, even though it has a long record of sloppy operations and allowing the facilities to run down while they pocket the profits.

You may ask what drove the City of Stockton to privatize the operation of their water system? It was the high cost of trying to purify water that is filled with pesticides, animal feces and other agricultural runoff. Again, turning to the Stockton Record, we find that the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board had given a three (3) year waiver to the farmers of the valley from having to meet Federal Clean Water regulations.

Today, the Record reports that the Board has just given the Farmers a five year extension, even though there was stiff opposition from environmental and fishing groups. No one will stand up to the economic power of agricultural interests in the valley. This is another example where someone tried self policing with no system of accountability. From today's article by environmental reporter, Warren Lutz:
Some experts believe farm runoff is the Central Valley's biggest source of water pollution, as waters seeped in pesticides, animal feces and sediment drain into waterways, the Delta and underground basins.

A 2001 state law made farmers subject to the Clean Water Act. But the board's so-called waiver program lets farmers avoid strict wastewater discharge requirements and monitor their own runoff by joining special coalitions.

Part of the problem is that there is no reporting and no accountability. Farmers could sign up into a coalition, do nothing, and no-one would know.

I am writing about it on a statewide list since +20,000,000 Californians drink the water that comes out the San Joaquin River Delta and pay for the costs of cleaning it up to be potable. It appears to me that every person who drinks water might want to pay attention to what is happening.

Anyone with a green or Green conscience should be looking at what their local water district or municipal water department is doing and making sure that they are not carrying the costs for cleaning up the San Joaquin River water.

A potential good source of information is the Planning and Conservation Leagues publication: Investment Strategy for California Water.

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