The amount of water pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would have to be cut in half if vulnerable fish populations are going to be preserved for future generations, a state report declared Tuesday.

The 190-page study by the State Water Resources Control Board is nonbinding, but it could shape how communities from the Bay Area to San Diego divvy up California's most precious resource.

The document, issued by the five-member board after nine months of scientific study, determined that 75 percent of runoff from snowpack and rainfall would need to funnel through the delta to San Francisco Bay and the ocean in order to sustain the estuary's most important wildlife and habitats, known in legal parlance as "public trust" resources.

Right now, about 50 percent of the state's runoff flows through the delta all the way to the ocean. The other 50 percent goes to cities and farms. Raising the flow into the ocean from 50 percent to 75 percent would require taking away roughly half of what cities and farms now get, according to the report.

"The board has finally put to rest the argument about whether the delta needs more water," said Cynthia Koehler, water legislative director with the Environmental Defense Fund. "You can't divert 50 percent of the flows and think the fish and ecosystem are going to be just fine."


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7/17/10 The water board unanimously adopted the permit, which enforces federal guidelines applied to other similar American mills for millions of gallons of wastewater the mill discharges into the ocean every day. Under the new permit, the mill will have to build a secondary treatment facility at a cost of about $26 million to remove pollutants before the wastewater is released. The permit and a cease and desist order from the board impose a timeline on progress toward tightening pollution controls.

The mill must reduce the amount of total suspended solids -- solid material present in the wastewater -- and biological oxygen demand, a measure of how much oxygen is stripped from the water around the outfall pipe that runs 11/4- miles into the ocean. The mill released about 14 million gallons of effluent a day in the last three years of the mill's operation. 

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7/7/10 When researchers wanted to test largemouth bass at Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir for mercury levels, the reservoir's managers in San Francisco figured the scientists were simply looking for a clean sample to compare with toxic results at other spots.

Instead, the study showed that the fish in the San Mateo County lake - which collects rainwater as well as water piped in from Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy reservoir - had some of the highest mercury levels in the state.

Now, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which oversees Crystal Springs and the rest of the sprawling network that supplies drinking water to 2.5 million people in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties, is trying to find the source of the heavy metal, a neurotoxin that can cause developmental damage in children and brain, lung and kidney problems in adults.

"It was a big surprise," said Tim Ramirez, manager for natural resources and land management at the commission's water enterprise division. "We're going to jump on it and try to find out what's going on."

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Click here for links to the report, fact sheet, and frequently asked questions. 


Some of the most difficult questions surrounding what would be the largest dam removal project in the world have yet to be answered.

Tearing out four dams on the Klamath River would be an incredibly complicated endeavor, requiring a host of engineering studies, economic analyses and biological investigations before it could start. After a broad array of tribes, agencies, fishing groups, environmental and farming interests -- though not without opposition -- signed two agreements to embark on the project in February, the federal government and the state of California are coming to the public in what they say is an effort to turn over every stone.

Public meetings on the development of an environmental impact statement and environmental impact report have been held in inland areas, and they are now beginning on the coast. A meeting will be held today in Brookings, Ore., Wednesday in Arcata and in Orleans on Thursday.

The sessions, called scoping meetings, are meant to inform the agencies working on the environmental analyses, which will be molded together with a set of technical studies. All together, the information will be used by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to determine if tearing out the dams is in the public's best interest.

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Though I share the frustration about salmon declines in the Mattole expressed in Glen Councilman's July 9th letter, “Sea Lions Need the Management,” his argument doesn't add up. It goes -- “Sea lions have been killing many of the remaining Mattole River salmon. The people in the Mattole who have been working to save the salmon have failed to kill sea lions or let them be killed. They are thus responsible for the loss of the salmon.”

Sorry, Glen. That's not the way it is. Here's just one bit of history that suggests the existence of alternative factors in salmon decline. I knew an old tree faller who, in the first year of the mid-70s drought (1974) when the big chinook were trapped in pools all over the North Coast waiting for rain to let them move upriver, bragged about killing 88 Mattole salmon over 20 pounds (he left the little ones alone). And he was just one guy. Salmon stocks, already in decline, took another nosedive after three consecutive years of this scenario -- heavy poaching on drought-stranded fish.

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