Health testing of California beaches has been extended for another year, giving temporary relief to the state program to protect swimmers from contaminated ocean water.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted Tuesday to spend $984,000 in state bond money to continue testing for pathogens at hundreds of beaches through 2011.

Beach water-quality monitoring has been in jeopardy because of state and county budget cuts. A Times investigation this summer found that testing had sunk to its lowest level in more than a decade, leading to fewer beach closures and advisories and putting swimmers, surfers and divers at a greater risk of getting sick.

The reprieve comes two years after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the $1 million the state had provided each year to test beaches across the state.

Since then, emergency bond funds and stimulus dollars have been tapped to keep the program afloat. But those funds were set to run out at the end of the year, leaving health agencies with the prospect of discontinuing testing and ending public alerts when the ocean poses a health risk.

In addition to the one-year extension, the water board called for wastewater agencies to coordinate their ocean water testing programs with health departments to save money.

A permanent source of funds for the tests, according to water board officials, can be authorized only by the Legislature and the next governor.


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The number of salmon in the Pacific Ocean is twice what it was 50 years ago. But there is a downside to this bounty, as growing numbers of hatchery-produced salmon are flooding the Pacific and making it hard for threatened wild salmon species to find enough food to survive.

In the American Northwest, the struggle to save endangered runs of salmon is one of the epic crusades of the contemporary conservation movement. Seventeen strains of Pacific salmon are currently listed as threatened or endangered. Two more are labeled “species of concern,” meaning they are close to jumping onto the list.

So what are we to make of this: A recent study published in the journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries found that the north Pacific Ocean may be nearing the limit of its salmon-carrying capacity. The North Pacific is becoming “overcrowded with salmon,” according to Randall Peterman, one of the study’s authors and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Fisheries Risk Assessment and Management at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. He and his co-author, Seattle-based fisheries biologist Greg Ruggerone, recently set out to compile the most complete set of data on Pacific salmon abundance. What they found is that today’s total Pacific salmon population is twice what it was 50 years ago. “We’re seeing more total salmon now than we’ve ever seen before,” says Peterman.

A surprising number of those fish — more than one in five — originate in hatcheries. And that has created its own set of problems. Masses of hatchery-bred salmon are gobbling up smaller fish, krill, and other prey, reducing food supplies in the North Pacific for endangered wild runs and hampering their recovery. In addition, hatchery fish, which come from limited brood stock with less diverse DNA, aren’t as genetically fit as wild salmon to support the long-term survival of the species.

How can numerous Pacific salmon runs be on the verge of extinction while total salmon numbers are straining the limits of the ocean’s capacity to support them?

According to the researchers, the abundance of some salmon species has been caused by a resurgence in wild salmon populations due to productive ocean conditions, as well as to the ever-increasing production of hatchery fish. But the problem is, the resurgence of wild populations hasn’t been universal. Five species of salmon exist in the Pacific: Pink, chum, sockeye, coho, and Chinook. (The Atlantic Ocean has only one species, the Atlantic salmon.) Over the past quarter-century, pink salmon populations from around the Pacific Rim have doubled, thanks, in part, to hatchery production. Other runs, such as Upper Columbia River Chinook and Snake River sockeye, limp along in alarmingly low numbers.


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The government has spent many millions of dollars in recent decades cleaning up sites contaminated with dioxin and, in extreme cases, relocating residents of entire neighborhoods tainted by the toxin.

But tough new pollution standards proposed by the Obama administration could require additional dioxin cleanups at scores of abandoned factories, military bases, landfills and other locations declared safe years ago, officials say.

If the guidelines receive final approval, federal and state officials will examine sites with known dioxin contamination to identify those needing work and what the work will cost. Among those expected to be reviewed are notorious places such as the former village of Times Beach, Mo., where about 2,000 people were relocated in the 1980s after dioxin-laced waste oil was sprayed on roads to control dust.

The Environmental Protection Agency plan has escalated a decades-long debate over the danger of dioxin, a family of chemical byproducts from industries such as pesticide and herbicide production, waste incineration and smelting. One form of dioxin was in Agent Orange, the defoliant used by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.

The EPA is expected to make a final decision this fall on the new standards. But congressional critics and chemical companies say the agency is acting hastily and should wait until it completes a reassessment of dioxin's health effects in the coming months.

"They're proposing these sweeping changes to regulations without giving us an idea of how many sites will be affected, how many homes will be affected, what the economic impact would be," said Rep. Dave Camp, a Republican whose Michigan district includes a 50-mile-long watershed polluted with dioxin from a Dow Chemical Co. plant. 

EPA officials say they want to move ahead because they are convinced dioxin is hazardous at lower concentrations than previously thought. If necessary, they say, the standards can be adjusted later.

"We're driven by the need to protect against excessive risk of both cancer and non-cancer health concerns," said Mathy Stanislaus, EPA assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response. "We believe (the current standards) are not sufficiently protective and more stringent numbers are needed."

Since 1998, the agency has regarded dioxin soil concentrations of less than 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt) as safe for residential areas. For commercial and industrial zones, 5,000 ppt to 20,000 ppt has been considered safe.

The proposed revisions would drop the safe levels to a fraction as much - 72 ppt for residential areas and 950 ppt for commercial and industrial sites.

Cleanups could be ordered anywhere dioxin readings exceed those thresholds, including sites where previous cleanups used less stringent standards.


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The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has announced that it is suspending its effort to develop a wave energy project off the coast of Humboldt County.

The utility cited “significant permitting challenges” and higher-than-expected projected costs. The proposed configuration and location of the project made it unviable, PG&E said in a statement.

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Click Here for PG&E's press release


Update from the Times Stanbdard, 10/30/10:

Wave project breaks apart; PG&E quits Humboldt coast effort, citing costs, permitting



Humboldt County is blessed by some of the most beautiful rivers in the country. However, users from outside and inside Humboldt County have been taking too much of our water for their own benefit, resulting in great damage to our rivers and placing them in great peril. Our rivers must be protected.

The Eel River is in grave danger. Over 90 percent of the headwaters of the Eel River are diverted to Sonoma County through the Russian River, and yet studies now show the Russian River has too much water. Native salmon and steelhead are currently unable to get past Fortuna and Ferndale. The release of additional water is being held up for more bureaucratic studies. Meanwhile, the fish are at risk of dying.

The Klamath River has suffered from reduced water flow from multiple dams upstream, and even the recent Klamath River agreements are in jeopardy. There is no assurance that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) will be implemented, as it depends on the state of California issuing a $250 million bond to fund its share of the removal costs. Even removing the dams does not guarantee that there will be adequate water to support the fish, and there remains a great deal of salmon habitat restoration that needs to be done.

Humboldt County has a legal right through Congressional legislation for 50,000 acre feet of water for the Trinity River which has been diverted to the Central Valley and Southern California and sold for huge profits. Despite the efforts of local  tribes (especially the Hoopa tribe), this right has been ignored by the Bureau of Reclamation, and Humboldt County has done little to enforce its rights. It is time for the county together with the tribes to take more aggressive action to force a successful resolution to this matter.

While it is convenient to blame others for our river problems, we are partially to blame for the sad state of our rivers. The perfect example of this is the Mattole River, where years of poor logging practices and a great deal of water diversion have led to the near extinction of the salmon there. This from a river that had an estimated 20,000 salmon in the 1950s; now there may only be a few dozen left.

In Redwood Creek, the salmon population has already been hurt by changes made to the estuary when the levee for Orick was constructed. Most of the upstream land past the National Park is private timberlands which are regulated on their impact on creeks and streams. One of the county's general plan update proposals would remove the working forests and allow unfettered home building without any regard to the impact downstream on the rivers.

Our water is our future. We need to fight to protect it, and we need a plan in place to restore our rivers, our fisheries and protect our water before our rivers are destroyed beyond recovery. Our fishermen have already felt the brunt of the enormous decline in our salmon population. Soon, we may face extinction of a fish that was once so plentiful that legend claimed you could walk across the river on the backs of the salmon.

I am calling upon Humboldt County to create a comprehensive river policy that will provide a framework for the county to fight for the return of our water, on the Klamath, on the Trinity and on the Eel, as well as to protect and restore health to the Mattole, the Mad and Redwood Creek.

Outside special interests will always look to use our water for their purposes. That's why a Sonoma County water lobbyist is contributing to conservative candidates in our local elections.

We must stand up for our water and keep the special interests out. We have some of the finest watershed restoration professionals in the country here. I believe that if we can pull together the community, we can begin to pull together a plan to restore our rivers.

It will take strong leadership from our Board of Supervisors and a community solution to resolve these complex issues. Otherwise, we risk being known as the land that used to have Six Rivers.

Patrick Cleary is the president of Lost Coast Communications and is running for 5th District supervisor. He lives in McKinleyville.


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