By Aniko Drlik-Muehleck
A deadline is approaching. It isn’t one most of us have heard about. August 30th is the last day the California State Water Resources Control Board will accept data submissions for the 2012 303(d) List.
Good question. The “303(d) List” or Impaired Waters List originates in section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requiring all states to record waters too polluted for recreational or natural environmental uses. States and stakeholders must then create mitigation strategies to restore waters to a functional state. The only problem is that states aren’t so great at acquiring pollution data. “The Water Board is supposed to undertake its own collection of all ‘readily available’ data to add new waterways to the list,” says Sara Aminzadeh of the California Coastkeeper Alliance. “However, in practice, the Water Board relies heavily on data from water quality monitoring groups,” she adds. So it’s our job to send info in ASAP!
But what exactly is an impaired waterway? We tend to think of pollution simply as the presence of harmful chemicals, but such a view overlooks other materials and activities that may contaminate water or disrupt natural conditions. Trash, for example, severely clogs Bay Area streams.
Impairment doesn’t have to come from foreign substances present in water either. Altering a water body’s natural flow can cause just as much damage as contaminants. Imagine a free-flowing river. First, several farmers decide to skim off thousands of gallons for crop irrigation. The water level falls, the sun quickly warms the shallow flow, and aquatic life suffers from the rising temperature. Then, the state builds one or two dams. Upstream riparian zones flood, downstream water levels further diminish, and seasonal flood patterns essential for ecosystem health are eliminated. Next, city developers channelize the river (straighten out the bends, often with the help of concrete), forcing it underground in places. Fish and other organisms dependent on the river cannot always adapt easily to these rapid habitat changes. Thus, flow alterations prove disastrous to steam dwellers and humans wishing to enjoy a river’s recreational pleasures.
The State Water Board is asking you to provide evidence of pollution and harmful flow alterations in your local waterways. You may present data in three basic forms:
1. Hard data (the actual numbers measuring water quality and any supporting analysis of those numbers)
2. Photos (especially depicting trash-buildup, must be accompanied by written descriptions)
3. Descriptive data (narratives describing conditions or events that negatively impact waterway–especially essential for listing “flow alterations” as an independent source of impairment)
Be sure to check out the California Coastkeeper Alliance’s website with detailed instructions for data submission and download the Water Board’s simple form to accompany anything you turn in. Send everything to:
Mr. Jeffery Shu
State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Quality
PO Box 100
Sacramento, CA 95812-0100.
There’s just enough time left for you to take stewardship of your watershed all the way up to the state level.