Citing serious water quality and ecological issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants the public’s input about the effectiveness of current water programs in the Delta. That was the message sent to the Delta Stewardship Council when representatives from the EPA made a presentation at the February Council meeting.
The EPA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on Feb. 10, which launches a public information-gathering process about how the EPA and California can achieve “water quality and aquatic resource protection goals” in the Delta.
While this language closely mirrors the Council’s statemandated coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply and protecting, restoring and enhancing the Delta ecosystem, the Council and the EPA both agreed the agencies need to work together more effectively on these pressing issues, especially since the EPA is a federal entity and the Council is a state agency.
“We’re struggling with how best to interact with the Council,” said Tom Hagler, an attorney with the EPA. “If you have ideas about how to forge a better relationship between you and us and all the federal agencies, we’d like to hear them.”
“We know your role is big, serious and important,” said Council Chair Phil Isenberg. “I’m teasing somewhat, but you being here is a bit of saber rattling. The state has got to get a move on and start doing things.”
Isenberg’s comments reflect the fact that the EPA by choice does not take the regulatory lead regarding the health of the Delta.
“We have a secondary role [in the Delta],” said Erin Foresman, an environmental scientist with the EPA. “Our role is oversight.”
Hence the ANPR, which only asks the public to consider whether the agency should be taking new or different actions regarding the Delta. The notice does not have any regulatory teeth and does not propose any new rules at this time.
But at least one Council member wondered if this situation could change and what impact it would have on the process.
“This notice seemed to be a discretionary act,” said Council member Patrick Johnston. “Proposing a rule also seems like it can be a discretionary act.”
Hagler says it’s too early to tell if the EPA will propose any new regulations. He added that “the EPA would be happy not to take the next step [of proposing a rule]. We want the regional and state water boards to do their functions.”
In addition to providing drinking water for 25 million Californians and irrigation for millions of acres of farmland, the Delta supports about 750 different species of plants, fish and wildlife. Many of these species are endangered and several fish populations are at all-time lows.
The EPA points out that no single factor is responsible for the decline of the Delta’s health. Pollutants, invasive species and water diversions all play a part in the deterioration of the Delta, and the agency felt it needed to submit the notice to sufficiently protect aquatic resources and water quality.
The EPA says it will review the public responses and other data after the comment period closes in April. It will then develop a proposal on how to leverage the agency’s resources to help the Delta Stewardship Council and other state and regional water boards achieve the state-mandated coequal goals.
The Council plans to direct staff to add a response to the notice and invited the EPA back to present their findings.
To view the ANPR please click here.