Thursday, June 12, 2008

In 2006, the Supreme Court withdrew protection for many wetlands in the United States in a sweeping decision that deregulates them under the Clean Water Act which previously had protected them. This was a boon for developers, as wetlands in many cases did not have to be protected as they were not "navigable waters" and therefore could be filled in and built upon. To hell with the wildlife affected. It also deregulates many of the pollution protection that these areas had under the Clean Water Act.

Well, now, in light of that decision, the LA River is not considered a navigable river. Here is a river whose flows have been cut, encased in concrete, had many of its tributary small wastewater plants sent to Hyperion (aka the biggest wastewater plant in the world) so much of possible flows go to the sea, and so on. As an aside, regulators love large wastewater plants because it is easy to regulate one large plant, instead of eight smaller ones. But, it means only one discharge point, often far from where water is captured and treated and used as drinking water allowing streams to dry up. Clear Creek in Denver is good example of this. Six small plants send their water to Denver Metro so the creek now can and does go dry in the summer. It did not used to. That means in places Clear Creek is now not a navigable waterway. For the LA River and its basin in a highly populated area, this means many of its tributaries and seasonal flows are not navigable and therefore are part of the protected waters by the Clean Water Act. That means that pollution can be released down these areas. In the long run, this will pollute what little flow still runs through LA. Makes me proud.

The salmon run is way down in the Sacramento/San Joaquin watershed (like 97%) and salmon fishing is banned. Now researchers are saying that some of the wastewater plants that feed the river discharge ammonia and not only is that toxic to fish, but ammonia releases upset the natural balance and spur the growth of toxic phytoplankton. So zooplankton that eats that dies. Guess what happens to fish that eat zooplankton before they die? The ammonia output was considered acceptable, because there is so much water flowing it dilutes it. This is the rationale that the State used to decide the amount of ammonia acceptable in discharge. Discharge permits in CA (and across the country) do not even consider endocrine disruptors in the discharge. Many hermaphroditic fish or 99.9% female fish downstream from wastewater plants is not unusual. What happens if there is no males, no spawning. of course. But that is another topic for later. What is pertinent is that CA is one of the few states that considers economic growth potential as part of the permitting process. (In CO it is how many lawyers you can muster to keep your permit lenient, so bigger dischargers get much more lenient permits than little guys.) So let me see--if you can prove economic hindrance and discharge to a waterway not protected under the Clean Water Act and I think you have just set the conditions for a toxic stew.

Is this what is really needed in the 21st century?


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