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Better treatment for what is flushed down Bay Area toilets can help ease California’s perennial water crisis
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Algal blooms — multiplying faster than rumors posted on social media thanks to feasting off nutrient laden warm water — have been killing fish and aquatic plants life alike in the Delta as well as San Francisco Bay.

Besides being toxic to fish and humans, they also such the oxygen out of the water, starving fish as well as other aquatic plants of life giving oxygen.

Depending upon where they are found, they leave calling cards of various shades of putrid colors.

In the SF Bay, it is reddish-brown splotches on the water.

In the Delta, it is a slime-like greenish-blue.

Such poisonous botches have been documented in the extremely southeastern part of the Delta where the San Joaquin River flows past Mossdale Crossing park and the mouth of the Old River in the Lathrop area.

 It may surprise you to read that in the depth of the drought we have just experienced, there was a push to increase fresh water releases from dangerously low reservoirs to help flush the algal blooms from both the Delta, the Bay, and the estuary that joins the two.

More water was seen as a way to flush the waterways of the Delta to send the algal blooms into the ocean —  much like you’d flush a toilet — where it would basically be killed in the cooler water.

Those advocating such a solution were locked smugly into their own little silo. They were experts tasked with addressing the algal bloom as well as environmentalists that shared the same narrow area of interest.

It is no different than agencies dedicated to flood control, agencies dedicated to protecting the environment,  agencies dedicated to provide water supplies, and so forth.

There are close to a dozen agencies on the state-level alone addressing water issues that are interrelated but aren’t often treated that way by the bureaucracy as well as court decisions.

Nothing in California is simple and straightforward.

It is no different with water management.

And it starts with nature.

This is where the vast amount of Pacific Ocean generated storm systems hit the land in the continental United States.

Those systems pass over the Coastal Ranges before crossing over the 450-mile bowl we’ve dubbed the Great Central Valley.

They then slam into the towering crest of the Sierra whose peaks rise as high as 14,454 feet to create an effective rain shadow as systems start crossing into the Great Basin.

Dendrology — the study of tree rings – shows climate change in California is a different animal.

Periods of drought for 900 plus years have been punctured by what we have just experienced — “record” perception as measured in the context of mankind’s extremely limited experience and the level of urbanization he has created.

This is why by March 21 — the start of spring this year — 11.6 million acre feet of water flowed out into San Francisco Bay.

Only 1.8 million acre feet combined where pumped into the California Aqueduct and the Delta -Mendota Canal.

That meant only 13 percent of “historic” storm runoff was sent south.

Then  we have the “historic” Sierra snowpack that is as much as 300 percent above normal in some parts of John Muir’s beloved Range of Light that is just starting to melt.

Then you toss in man’s ingenuity.
Massive reservoirs. Countless smaller dams.  Aqueducts and canals. Massive pumps to move water uphill over mountain ranges like the Tehachapi. Deep injection into aquifers. Desalinization. And even wastewater treatment plants.

Man has made massive reservoirs more prolific and consistent than large natural lakes.

It has allowed the unnatural movement of water transfer from water basins that are completely disconnected.

In doing so, places like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco got significantly larger than they would have relying just on nature’s water placement.

The Central Valley has been transformed into the richest agricultural region ever known to man.

And environmental protections — which have addressed damage man’s water engineering has done but also has improved substantially on what Mother Nature has in place — have reached new levels.

One would think given what challenges California has with water and what is has been blessed with that Sacramento wouldn’t channel the Tower Of Babel when it comes to developing and implementing a cohesive and holistic approach to water needs.

The issue of the water treatment process dispensing nutrient laden water into waterways has been an issue for years

 It is why cities like Manteca and Lathrop — that return treated wastewater to the San Joaquín River and the Delta — have been tasked by the state to address those concerns.

Mainly it’s because the two cities are growing and are “above or in the Delta” which subjects plant  expansions to much more stringent standards than existing facilities in the Bay Area.

It may not surprise you that one of the primary contributors to Bay Area  algal blooms are wastewater treatment plants dumping nutrient laden water into the bay.

Upgrading wastewater treatment plants around the bay would eliminate the nutrient pollution.

Instead, those cities that are already taking water supplies from water basins hundreds of miles away, continue to dump problematic treated water back into the bay,

That, in turn, is requiring taking even more water captured behind reservoirs hundreds of miles away to be  released during the warm months of the non-rainy season to flush out toxic algal growth.

It is water — without building another reservoir — that could be  diverted south into the San Joaquin Valley or the urbanized coastal plain of Southern California.

Robbing the Delta, by the way, of water from the Sacramento River that now flows through the  Delta before reaching the Clifton Court Forebay of the California Aqueduct northwest of Tracy by diverting it into a tunnel, also would exacerbate the Delta toxic algal bloom problem.