San Joaquin River DOTMDL -- Technical Working Group

Editorial: Rescuing the river. Cooperation among competing interests the key to San Joaquin River's health

San Joaquin Record - February 03, 2005
By Opinion Editorial

The sooner everybody involved stops blaming everybody else, the sooner the health of the Stockton Deep Water Channel will be restored.

San Joaquin River oxygen depletion and fish kills are the responsibility of more than one interest group.

Only by cooperating will any real difference be realized.

Members of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board upset farmers last week by ruling they must reduce the amount of fertilizer and other oxygen-sucking substances dumped into the river.

They also blamed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying their 1934 and 1987 efforts to deepen the channel (first to 30 feet, then to 35) created an aquatic environment that reduces oxygen levels and kills fish.

A final observation from regional board members: San Joaquin River flow is so slow by the time it reaches the Delta that too little is left to stir the water up enough to dissipate and flush dead algae.

The regional water panel took its criticism a different direction the next day, letting representatives of the Port of Stockton know that fines were possible over the delay of documents involving toxic soil dredged from the bottom of the Stockton Deep Water Channel.

The net result of the quadruple-whammy: regulators are cracking down with equal force in trying to improve water quality in the channel, along the river and throughout the Delta.

Farmers and ranchers feel as though they've been unfairly targeted.

We don't agree.

Everybody involved has been held responsible and shares the blame.

Farmers and ranchers must share in assuring the river's cleanup. Some have allowed animal waste, fertilizer and runoff from wetlands to pour into the stagnant waters.

Unlike some in the agriculture industry, Port of Stockton officials seem to be accepting their fair share of the responsibility.

Port Director Richard Aschieris confesses to some "soul searching" that's pointed him in a "more positive direction."

Members of the regional board still aren't convinced.

"We've extended a little trust. They didn't get their act together and we still have problems," says board chairman Richard Schneider.

The central issue between them is tainted dirt dredged up from the bottom of the channel.

Port officials are planning a major expansion along Rough & Ready Island. They need to work with regulators and environmental watchdogs as they move ahead.

Judicial proceedings involving Friant Dam and increased flows down the San Joaquin River aren't going to unravel this 60-year-old mess anytime soon.

It's wrong for farmers, ranchers, port officials, Delta users and municipal wastewater officials to wait for the spigot to open wider. They must take positive action -- before it's too late.

Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board members also need to keep listening and seeking compromise and consensus -- and not merely assessing blame. #

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