Delta Pollution From Sacramento

Who is responsible for the sorry state of the ecology in the Sacramento River Delta? And who is responsible for the extremely poor water quality withdrawn from the Delta for drinking water in Central and Southern California? A look at today’s Sacramento Bee seems to indicate that one of the main culprits may be the City of Sacramento itself. See:

All wastewater treatment plants must have permits to discharge their effluent streams into natural waters. These permits are to be revisited every five years. However, the City of Sacramento has not had a permit renewal in over ten years. And the most recent draft of a new permit drew over 300 people to a 12-hour public hearing. The main reason: customer rates could triple, to around $60 per household per month. I wouldn’t be happy if I were a Sacramento resident!

So what will cost so much to fix? In my June 15 blog, we looked at Biochemical Oxygen Demand. This is probably the single most important measure of a waste’s impact on the environment. And apparently, this is one are where Sacramento is falling down. I don’t know the details, but that sounds bad.

Also sounding very bad is the level of ammonia discharge — 14 tons per day! This amounts to 99% of all the ammonia found in the Delta. If correct, this is staggering, and would have a profound impact on the ecosystem of the Delta. It would also account for the BOD problems, as ammonia will consume oxygen from the environment while it is decomposing to form nitrogen, nitrite, and nitrate. Ammonia is toxic to many life forms, including copepods — a class of planktonic microorganisms “at the base of the food chain” — which means less food is available. And less food means less fish.

Could Sacramento’s ammonia discharges be more damaging to the populations of Delta smelt, salmon, and various other fish species than the operation of the State Water Project? If so, why are the people of Sacramento being allowed to rape and pillage the Delta’s environment, while calling for restrictions in flows to the SWP?

If they would ask nicely, and if it would lead to more flows being allowed to enter the SWP, the people of Sacramento could easily find a financing partner in the State Water Contractors!

But if the Contractors finally build the Peripheral Canal — thus permanently restoring the natural flow pathways to the Delta — and environmental damage continues, the City of Sacramento would be the exposed as the entity responsible not only for the destruction of the Delta environment, but for the “regulatory drought” that has plagued the California economy for the past several years.

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