While the front cover of this season's Vanity Fair bears the standard celebrity mug (Emilia Clarke, who plays Game of Thrones' dragon-riding queen Daenerys Targaryen), on pages 84 through 89 you'll find an article about efforts to preserve California's vibrant coast — and one familiar face.


Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt was interviewed along with several other Golden State water protectors highlighting sustainability efforts up and down the coast. In the article, which you can read here, Kalt discusses her promotion of sustainable oyster farming and the importance of zeroing in where you can make a difference.


“I know people feel really overwhelmed, but if they just focus on the one issue they really care about they can make so much of a difference,” says Kalt in the article, written by Bruno Navasky.


Reached for comment, Kalt added that it's "great" that the work of water defenders is getting national attention.


"We work at the local level to restore clean water but across the state, we have similar problems like mercury in local fish, E. coli at our beaches, polluted runoff, and struggling salmon populations," Kalt wrote in an email. "More than half of the rivers and streams in the country fail to meet one or more water quality standard. Bays and estuaries are in even worse shape. So now is not the time to be weakening federal protections for clean water — if anything, we need stronger protections than ever, especially at the state level. Being part of this network is critical for developing solutions, whether it's through science, statewide policy or citizen lawsuits."


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When it comes to a recent Humboldt Baykeeper study of mercury levels in Humboldt Bay fish and shellfish, the group’s director Jennifer Kalt said there’s good news and bad news.


The study found that men, women and children of all ages should avoid ingesting unsafe levels of mercury by taking leopard shark out of their diets. The study also recommends women under 45 years old and children avoid eating lingcod above 10 pounds.


Weekly serving amounts for other species — such as bat rays, California halibut, black rockfish — are also recommended to be low, according to the study.


However, Kalt said it was good news to learn that Chinook salmon, clam, mussels and other species could be safely eaten at higher quantities.


“It’s not about scaring people off of eating fish altogether,” Kalt said about why they conducted the study, “but there are a couple in Humboldt Bay that are to be avoided and a couple that are considered to be high enough in mercury that they should be consumed in moderation, especially in children.”


With Humboldt County’s largest bivalve bash — the Arcata Main Street Oyster Festival — fast-approaching, oyster and shellfish lovers can rest a little easier. Based on mercury levels in oysters from Humboldt Bay, the study recommends men, women and children limit their oyster consumption to 7 servings per week.


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For the fifth consecutive year, Humboldt County beaches placed on a pretty gross Top 10 list.


Clam and Luffenholtz beaches placed fourth and sixth respectively on the environmental organization Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummers list because of poor water quality — specifically from fecal bacteria contamination.


Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services supervising environmental health specialist Mario Kalson said the Beach Bummers list used data collected by the county as part of its state-mandated beach monitoring program.


Both Clam and Luffenholtz beaches along with Trinidad State Beach and Moonstone Beach are considered impaired waters by the State Water Board, Kalson said.


Humboldt Baykeeper director Jennifer Kalt’s environmental organization has also sampled other watersheds throughout the county for fecal bacteria contamination, specifically in Janes Creek in Arcata and Little River. “What we found suggests the source in Little River is likely to be septic systems and that the sources in Arcata in Janes Creek are not really known at this point,” Kalt said.


Kalt said past studies suggest that the sources of fecal bacteria at Clam and Luffenholtz beaches are human-sourced rather than from wildlife. Previous studies by her organization and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control found no fecal bacteria contamination in areas with minimal or no human activity, such as state and national parks and timber company lands, Kalt said.


Heal the Bay’s report card shows the beaches at the north side of Mad River mouth had an A+ grade, which Kalt said further suggests that the contamination is human-caused. “People say it’s probably just birds, seagulls and harbor seals,” Kalt said. “There is a high concentration of wildlife there.”


Kalt said she is really hoping that the county’s genetic analysis of the fecal coliform in local streams will point to the primary problems and lead to solutions.


Earlier this year, the state approved a Humboldt County plan for overseeing wastewater and septic systems. Kalson said that the Local Area Management Plan will require the county to review impaired watersheds and identify septic systems that may be contributing to the contamination.


In the meantime, Kalt and Heal the Bay suggest that people avoid swimming in waters at these two beaches for three days after significant rainfall to avoid potential infection.


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There is nothing more Californian than our ability to swim, surf and fish in clean water. And yet, we have fallen behind Kentucky and Texas when it comes to clean water enforcement. With industry advocates in the federal driver’s seat, we need state leaders in California to hold polluters accountable for harming our precious water resources.


It used to be that the federal government was a cop on the beat enforcing the Clean Water Act. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency being subjected to a hostile takeover from polluting industries, the number of environmental enforcement cases and the amount of penalties levied has been cut in half.


At least under the Trump administration, California is going to have to go it alone. We are known internationally as a state that cares deeply about environmental protection, so you’d think we’d have this covered. California is suing the Trump administration to prevent rollbacks to vehicle emission standards. Frustratingly, this same vigor has not been applied to taking action against those polluting California’s beaches, bays and rivers.


The State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards are charged with protecting our increasingly scarce and precious water resources. These agencies helped us survive a devastating drought, but are falling short when it comes to levying fines against polluters. In 2016, only 1 percent of the illegal industrial and construction storm water pollution cases brought to the state water board resulted in penalties. 


Six of the nine regional water boards did not issue a single fine in 2016. In 2017, just 2 percent of industrial and construction storm water pollution cases brought to the state water board resulted in penalties.


This means that of the thousands of refineries, trash dumps, auto dismantlers and cement factories from San Jose to the Oregon border, not a single facility was fined by the state for storm water pollution. In California, the polluter doesn’t pay. Even repeat offenders and those who are responsible for “serious” violations face no economic consequences. This puts the majority of companies — which are complying with the Clean Water Act — at a significant competitive disadvantage.


The same state agencies that don’t seem willing to issue penalties for polluted industrial runoff have a good track record when it comes to issuing fines for sewage pollution, so it can be done. Let’s start enforcing clean water laws by taking these three steps…


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Five years ago, California took the bold step of establishing a basic human right to “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes." This right is of utmost importance to those rural communities whose drinking water has been contaminated by pesticides and nitrates from fertilizer.

But now polluters are seeking to avoid their legal responsibilities by hijacking a well-intentioned bill, Senate Bill 623.

SB 623 – its main proposals could be heard by a Senate budget subcommittee as soon as Thursday – would do one good thing and one very bad thing.


As originally drafted, the bill would establish a fund to assist for communities and individuals whose wells are polluted. Every Californian should support this effort. We have benefited from inexpensive food grown on the backs of farm workers living in these rural communities. In the richest state of the world's richest nation, absolutely no one should be consuming or bathing in dangerously polluted water.


But the bill would also perpetuate agricultural pollution. In the last few years, state water agencies and non-profit organizations have begun to press for better farm practices to reduce water contamination. In response, the agribusiness lobby has added language to SB 623 that would give industrial farms, livestock feed lots, sprawling wineries and others a pass on cleaning up their operations.


The “safe harbor” provisions would shield farm operators who pay into the fund from enforcement of basic water quality protection requirements, even though under the best-case scenario, they are collectively expected to contribute only about $30 to 40 per year for each of the estimated one million Californians using contaminated wells.


That's hardly enough for a month's worth of bottled water delivery, let alone adequate treatment or long-term cleanup. And in return, farm operations would be exempted from water quality and cleanup requirements, allowing them to continue polluting with impunity.


California has never embraced such a pay-to-pollute scheme, and we cannot start now, particularly as industries have unprecedented power in Washington, D.C.


The basic concept behind SB 623 remains sound – to fund a program to provide safe water to every Californian while we figure out how to clean up the mess that agricultural dischargers have created. But exempting those polluters from clean-up responsibility for a few pennies on the dollar is a terrible idea.

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