NEWS WORTH NOTING: PPIC: Water policy priorities for a changing California; Lawsuit filed over failure to protect SF Bay’s salt ponds; Report: Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ widespread in CA drinking water sources; Study indicates oilfield activities have increased groundwater salinity in Western Kern County
How will climate change affect California water management, and what steps should the state take to prepare for these changes? The PPIC Water Policy Center was asked by the Newsom administration to submit formal comments outlining key water policy priorities for the state—and ways to integrate actions across state agencies to implement these priorities. Our recommendations will inform the administration’s preparation of a water resilience portfolio. We address two key areas where the state can play a leading role—modernizing the water grid and protecting freshwater ecosystems. …
Lawsuit against Trump EPA over Failure to Protect San Francisco Bay’s Salt Ponds
Press release from the San Francisco Baykeeper and partners:
Save The Bay, San Francisco Baykeeper, Committee for Green Foothills, and Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge joined together today to protect San Francisco Bay by filing a critical lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit seeks to overturn EPA’s recent arbitrary decision that the Redwood City Salt Ponds along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay are not protected by the Clean Water Act.
The suit alleges EPA violated the law by determining the Salt Ponds are not “waters of the United States” and removing them from legal protection.
The Salt Ponds, like other wetlands around the Bay, deserve protection and are an integral part of the Bay Area’s ecosystem.
The environmental organizations are asking the United States District Court in San Francisco to “reject EPA’s complete abdication of its duty to regulate the Salt Ponds under the Clean Water Act.” The lawsuit highlights the importance of the Salt Ponds in providing habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife, as well as the educational and recreational opportunities they provide for the people in the community. The Salt Ponds are also critical to protecting the Bay’s water quality and mitigating the impacts of sea level rise.
“The Salt Ponds and other San Francisco Bay wetlands and water deserve continued federal legal protection against pollution and development,” said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. “We won’t let the Trump Administration invite developers to pave the bay.”
The Salt Ponds have been owned and operated by Cargill, Inc. and its affiliates since 1978. They constitute one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the San Francisco Bay’s shoreline. For over a decade, Cargill and its developer partner DMB Associates have sought to build on the Salt Ponds. In 2012, the companies withdrew a proposal to build over 12,000 homes and thousands of square feet of commercial buildings on the ponds due to intense opposition from the local community.
“We’re not going to stand by while Cargill uses the Trump administration’s eagerness to gut our environmental laws for its own economic advantage,” said Megan Fluke, Executive Director of Committee for Green Foothills. “The salt ponds are part of the Bay. Development here would not only destroy restorable natural resources, it would put homes and businesses in the path of sea level rise, on an earthquake liquefaction site, and next to heavy industry.”
“EPA’s decision to classify the salt ponds as ‘land’ instead of water is absurd and illegal,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper. “It’s a thinly veiled scheme by the Trump administration to allow the Cargill corporation to destroy the Bay for profit, without worrying about Clean Water Act safeguards.”
EPA “determined the vast majority of the surface waters located at the Site are not subject to the Clean Water Act’s protections, effectively authorizing their pollution or destruction,” according to the lawsuit.
“Through the efforts of Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and others, Congress has authorized the potential expansion of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge to include the Salt Ponds because they have significant conservation and wildlife values,” stated Gail Raabe, Co-Chair of CCCR. “We find it indefensible that the Trump administration has removed federal Clean Water Act protection over those same ponds, flying in the face of decades of critically important regulatory protection.”
The lawsuit alleges that the Trump Administration’s EPA, previously headed by Scott Pruitt, and now Andrew Wheeler, has systematically worked to decrease protection of the nation’s water under the Clean Water Act. The Plaintiffs are represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, headquartered in Burlingame, and Earthrise Law Center, based at the Lewis and Clark Law School.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that EPA’s negative jurisdictional determination was arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the Clean Water Act, and lacked substantial evidence to support the findings, under the Administrative Procedure Act.
According to Joe Cotchett, lead attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy: “This is one more Trump attack on our environment, as EPA puts the profits of big businesses like Cargill ahead of the good of the country.”
According to the litigation, the EPA wholly ignored its own legal and environmental experts in reaching an unlawful determination. “EPA’s own exhaustive study of these ponds in 2016 appears to have been completely ignored by political decision makers in Washington, DC. They provided extensive scientific and legal analysis demonstrating the Salt Ponds are waters of the United States,” according to Attorney Nazy Fahimi of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. “EPA’s decision sets a dangerous legal precedent for waters across the United States,” said Allison LaPlante, an attorney at Earthrise Law Center. “If the San Francisco Bay salt ponds are not waters, then waterbodies across the country are at risk of losing vital protections under the Clean Water Act.”
“The Salt Ponds are a small but vital part of the health of the entire Bay Area ecosystem,” said Eric Buescher, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. “This is just one fight against the abdication of environmental protection occurring on a daily basis throughout the United States. It is a fight that our clients are waging every day and that requires the support and involvement of the entire community to win.”
Former Congressman and founder of Earth Day, Pete McCloskey, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, stated “this fight is vital to protecting the San Francisco Bay from money grabs by wealthy developers. Protecting these lands are vital to preventing the natural resources of the Bay from being destroyed.”
New State Data: Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Widespread in California Drinking Water Sources
From the Environmental Working Group:
Drinking water sources for 74 community water systems serving 7.5 million Californians are contaminated with the highly toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, according to an Environmental Working Group review of the latest state data.
Very low doses of PFAS chemicals in drinking water have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, liver or thyroid disease and other health problems. All of the detections in California water systems’ sources exceeded 1 part per trillion, or ppt, the safe level recommended by the best independent studies and endorsed by EWG.
More than 40 percent of systems had at least one sample with over 70 ppt of total PFAS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s inadequate lifetime health advisory level for the two most notorious fluorinated chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. In addition to those two compounds, some California water systems detected up to six other PFAS chemicals.
Study Indicates Oilfield Activities Have Increased Groundwater Salinity in Western Kern County
From the State Water Board:
A study performed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of a State Water Resources Control Board program that monitors regional groundwater quality in oil production areas has revealed higher than normal salinity levels in groundwater near three oil fields in western Kern County.
The results of the study released this month in a technical publication of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, showed increased salinity above natural levels in groundwater near current and historic oilfield produced-water disposal areas in the Lost Hills, North Belridge, and South Belridge oil fields.
“These regional monitoring findings are essential in helping us gain a better understanding of how groundwater could be affected in areas of oil and gas production,” said Jonathan Bishop, Chief Deputy Director of the State Water Board. “This study provides us new information that the agencies will use to evaluate if additional groundwater investigations are warranted.”
Based on data collected from oil production wells, underground injection wells, and groundwater monitoring wells, the study found that the salinity increases are related to the mixing of native groundwater with saline oilfield produced-water discharged to surface disposal ponds and underground injection wells.
While the groundwater near these oil fields currently is not a source of drinking water because it is naturally brackish (salty), some farmers use it for irrigation.
“This is the first time in this study we’ve seen direct evidence of disposed water migrating outwards from oilfield underground injection disposal wells in California,” says USGS geologist and study author Janice Gillespie. “Mapping the natural groundwater salinity near the injection sites was the key to figuring out where changes had occurred.”
The USGS initiated the mapping in 2016 to document the salinity gradients within the aquifer system and record changes near produced water disposal ponds and injection wells. The USGS is conducting this research under contract with State Water Board, in accordance with Senate Bill 4 (Pavley, 2013), which requires the Board to develop and implement a regional groundwater monitoring program.
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About News Worth Noting: News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations. News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms. If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.