Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Progress Report 2010:
Communities and Ecosystems
The Pacific Southwest Region is extraordinarily diverse, both in ecosystems and human communities. Landscapes range from the arid Navajo Nation to the rain forests of Kauai and coral reefs of Saipan. Cultures include 147 Native American tribes and communities, Hawaiians, Samoans, Guamanians, and ethnic groups from around the world who have migrated to Hawaii and North America over the last three centuries.
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Indian Country and Pacific island territories have received federal funding through EPA to help build, improve and maintain safe drinking water and wastewater facilities. In 2009, EPA celebrated 25 years of partnership with tribes on environmental issues. In addition, the pace of improvements accelerated with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and a more generous funding formula for Pacific islands and tribes.
EPA also works with disadvantaged communities where residents experience disproportionate impacts of pollution and waste disposal, and often lack the resources and tools to address these impacts. EPA has partnered with these communities to provide technical support and grants to build local capacity to pursue long-term solutions.
Recovery Act Brings Water Infrastructure to Tribes, Islands, Border Communities
Many Native American tribes, Pacific island territories and U.S.-Mexico border communities still lack access to basic water and wastewater service. While some improvements have been made in recent years, the pace greatly accelerated in 2009 thanks to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and a separate, major increase in annual EPA funding for water facilities on tribal lands and Pacific islands.
The projects chosen for Recovery Act grants were “shovel ready”—already planned but just awaiting funding. EPA worked cooperatively with tribal, island, and federal and state governments to award the grants. By October, EPA staff shifted their focus to oversight— monitoring expenditures and tracking progress of Recovery Act-funded projects.
About 13% of homes in Indian Country lack access to safe water, compared with 0.6% of homes in the U.S. as a whole. More than 30% of Navajo Nation residents lack access to safe running water in their homes. In 2009 and 2010, work funded by the Recovery Act is underway to bring safe, piped drinking water to a total of more than 10,000 tribal homes for the first time. Another 8,000 homes will get wastewater services—flush toilets, sewers and sewage treatment. EPA is overseeing this work in partnership with the Indian Health Service.
The Recovery Act is funding safe, piped drinking water for 10,000 tribal homes.
In the Pacific island territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (which includes Saipan), 27% of people lack access to safe drinking water. The island of Saipan, with a population of 70,000, is the only U.S. municipality of its size without 24-hour water service. Guam is preparing for a U.S. military base expansion which will increase the territory’s population 25% by 2014.
In 2009 EPA issued 11 Recovery Act grants for these territories, totaling $12 million for improvements to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. This year (2010), $50 million has been allocated.
Along the U.S.-Mexico Border, one of the biggest challenges is upgrading wastewater facilities to handle the vastly-increased population that has settled on the Mexican side in recent years, drawn by jobs at factories known as “maquiladoras.” More than 14.6 million people live in the border area, mostly in 15 pairs of sister cities that straddle the border. In one of these cities last year, Nogales, EPA funding helped complete a $65 million upgrade of the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant, benefiting more than 200,000 residents and improving water quality in the Santa Cruz River, which flows from Mexico into Arizona.
In another border city, Mexicali, EPA funding through the Border Environment Cooperation Commission is being used to construct 124 acres of wetlands to further clean effluent from the Las Arenitas wastewater treatment plant.
Getting Results Through Tribal/EPA Partnerships: 25 Years of Progress
The year 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of EPA’s Indian Policy, which set forth the Agency’s trust responsibility to federally-recognized tribes and directed EPA staff to work with tribes on a government-to-government basis to protect the environment and human health. Since then, the policy has been re-affirmed by every new administrator. With funding by EPA grants growing steadily over the years, more than 80% of the 147 federally-recognized tribes in the Pacific Southwest Region now have their own environmental protection programs.
The combined area of these tribes’ lands is more than 27 million acres, with a total population of 315,000 tribal members. This timeline shows some of the major milestones of the past three decades in the Pacific Southwest’s Indian Country.
1981: EPA’s first grant to a tribe in the Pacific Southwest funds a FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rotenticide Act) program at the Gila River Indian Community.
1982: EPA issues first grant to the Intertribal Council of Arizona.
1984: EPA Administrator John Ruckelshaus adopts EPA Indian Policy (still in effect); EPA issues grant to fund environmental programs at Navajo Nation.
1985: First EPA grant for a tribal air program goes to Navajo Nation.
1991: EPA Region 9 receives $205,000 for grants to all qualifying tribes in the Pacific Southwest.
1992: Congress approves Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (GAP), providing ongoing grants to tribes.
1995: EPA forms the Regional Tribal Operations Committee (RTOC) to provide guidance from tribes for EPA’s budget, programs, regulations and priorities affecting tribes.
1996: Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments authorizes Drinking Water Tribal Setaside Program.
1998: Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California establishes Washoe Environmental Protection Department. Since then, the tribe has recycled more than 600 abandoned vehicles and thousands of white goods (such as washers and dryers) and tires.
1999: Gila River Indian Community starts curbside trash collection to end backyard waste burning; Kaibab Tribe starts Environmental Youth Outreach Program.
2000: First Tribal Border Infrastructure project completed: Cocopah Tribe’s sewer construction.
2001: Throughout the Pacific Southwest, 33 tribes implement hazardous waste programs.
2004: Navajo Nation gains authority to run air permit programs.
2007: The Gila River Indian Community submits a Tribal Implementation Plan (similar to a state’s Clean Air Act regulatory plan), later approved by EPA.
2009: The Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians of Southern California became the first fully “off-grid” reservation, with 100% renewable electric power generated by sun and wind.
Cumulative and 2009 Results
The Pacific Southwest is home to about 315,000 tribal members.
The pace of environmental progress in Indian Country has been accelerating in recent years. The following are among the many goals achieved last year.
- In 2009, 130 tribes and tribal consortia in the Pacific Southwest received a total of $15.6 million in GAP grants.
- As of 2009, 93 tribes in the region had implemented their own solid and hazardous waste programs.
- Since 1987, in partnership with tribes and the Indian Health Service, EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water Tribal Set-Aside programs in the region have provided $112 million for 450 projects to improve infrastructure for 65,000 tribal homes.
- has grown from five tribes eligible to receive funding in 1989 to 98 tribes in 2009, of which 93 received funding. The Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program has grown from 11 tribes eligible in 1997 to more than 77 tribes in 2009, of which 67 received funding.
- EPA’s Tribal Border Infrastructure Program has provided $34 million to tribes for 47 water infrastructure projects serving nearly 10,000 tribal homes near the U.S.-Mexico Border.
- EPA has awarded more than $4 million to tribes for source water assessment and protection for more than 60% of tribal drinking water systems in the Pacific Southwest. The Navajo Nation has its own program to ensure that 161 tribal water systems meet federal drinking water standards.
- Between 2004 and 2007, the Tohono O’odham Nation cleaned up illegal migrant camps along the U.S.-Mexico Border, removing 13 tons of garbage filling 1,231 large trash bags, plus 109 abandoned vehicles and 235 bicycles.
- Since 1997, EPA has worked with 12 tribes and spent more than $7 million to investigate more than 120 Leaking Underground Storage Tank sites, and clean up and close 21 of them. In 2009, EPA credentialed two Navajo Nation inspectors, the first tribal tank inspectors in the U.S., enabling the tribe to enforce underground tank regulations.
- By 2009, EPA’s regional Pesticides Office funds 10 tribal pesticide programs and one tribal consortium. The Pala Band of Mission Indians and the Blue Lake Rancheria fund their own pesticide regulatory programs. The Tohono O’odham Nation uses GAP funds to monitor pesticide use. Tribes were responsible for 57% of pesticide enforcement actions in Indian Country nationwide.
- The Colorado River Indian Tribes have collected, cleaned and recycled 24 tons of plastic pesticide containers used by farmers on 85,000 acres of agricultural land.
- Between 2000 and 2008, 15 tribes received grants to abate lead (Pb) hazards. Projects funded included awareness programs, soil testing and blood lead screening for children and pregnant women.
- In 2009, EPA awarded 30 tribal air grants totaling more than $3 million, plus a radon grant to the Navajo Nation. With this funding, 26 tribes are monitoring air for particulate matter, ozone (smog), or air toxics.
- Since 1982, EPA has conducted 61 Emergency Response actions on tribal lands in the region. Most were cleanups of abandoned hazardous waste and contaminated soil. EPA has worked with 20 tribes to support tribal Emergency Response programs.
Environmental Justice in the Pacific Southwest
“The color of your skin or size of your wallet should not determine the quality of your environment,” says EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, who is making environmental justice one of his top priorities.
Environmental justice (EJ) is part of EPA’s routine work at the Pacific Southwest Office. In addition, EPA’s EJ Program supports the regional office in integrating environmental justice considerations into its programs and decision-making. “Environmental justice isn’t an afterthought in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region,” Blumenfeld says. “It’s the first thought.”
In Southern California, EPA is collaborating with community groups and government agencies to address the health concerns of people living near the I-710 freeway, where cargo from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach moves inland by diesel truck. Due to constant truck and rail traffic, residents of the densely-populated area are exposed to more air pollution than other Southland residents. EPA designated the area one of the nation’s 10 “EJ Showcase Communities”—places where EPA enhances the agency’s technical support of community efforts.
A three-year, $160,000 EPA grant to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control is helping that agency partner with communities to “ground truth” environmental issues and target enforcement and compliance efforts. Just north of the I-710 corridor, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice is using an EPA EJ grant to educate residents about air pollution risks from heavy truck and locomotive traffic. The group hopes to ensure that future policy decisions protect the communities from increased pollution.
In 2009, collaboratives in the Pacific Southwest received two of five nationwide Environmental Justice Achievement Awards, recognizing the successes of multi-stakeholder partnerships. The Fish Contamination Education Collaborative was recognized for raising awareness about the dangers of eating fish caught near the Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund site off the coast of Los Angeles. The Clean Trucks Program was recognized for its effort to reduce big-rig pollution from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by 80 percent by 2012.
Other successful projects are underway:
- In Richmond, Calif., the Asian Pacific Environmental Network received an EPA EJ grant to build the Laotian refugee community’s capacity to address environmental justice and public health issues associated with local planning, development and land use.
- In East Oakland, Calif., Communities for a Better Environment received an EPA EJ grant to work with youth and volunteers to conduct a diesel truck counting study in the heavily trafficked Hegenberger Corridor, with the goal of changing truck routes to reduce impacts on residents.
- In San Diego, the Environmental Health Coalition helped low-income residents in Barrio Logan work with the Port of San Diego to introduce clean plug-in electric power for docked ships, to replace the ships’ engines as generators. The group received a $300,000 Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) grant to continue its work.
- The small San Joaquin Valley city of Arvin, which has 25% unemployment and an 88% Hispanic population, has the nation’s highest number of days with unhealthy smog levels. A $20,000 EPA grant is helping the Committee for a Better Arvin bring stakeholders together to understand and address a variety of environmental hazards.
- On the Wai’anaee Coast of Oahu, Hawaii, the Pacific American Foundation is using a CARE (Communities for a Renewed Environment) grant to work with low-income, mostly native residents to address polluted runoff, mercury-contaminated fish, illegal dumping in streams, proximity to polluting facilities and other concerns.
- In Black Falls, on the Navajo Nation, the nonprofit Forgotten People used a $20,000 EPA grant to help families affected by uranium contamination of well water by providing clean, safe drinking water systems for 10 families while also building community capacity to address environmental problems.
Reducing Impacts Through Environmental Review
From dams to highways to permits for gigantic open-pit mines, federal agency actions and federal funding often have huge environmental impacts. Under the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), federal agencies must prepare a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before making any decision that has a significant impact on the environment. EPA’s role is to review the draft EISs, comment on them and make sure they identify all reasonable mitigation measures that could alleviate the environmental impacts.
Last year, EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region received 130 EISs for review—27% of the national total. The formidable task of reviewing them falls to the Environmental Review Office, a group of 17 EPA staff and one manager, Kathy Goforth. This behind-the-scenes work resulted in significant environmental improvements in many of the proposed projects and permits.
For example, the U.S. Forest Service planned a logging operation in California’s Shasta- Trinity National Forest to thin dense forest stands to reduce fire danger and improve forest health. As a result of EIS comments by EPA and the public, the Forest Service chose an alternative plan that avoids construction of new roads, removes fire-prone piles of slash (dead branches usually left on the ground after logging), and retains existing forest canopy in riparian areas.
Protecting Vernal Pool Wetlands
At the newest University of California campus in Merced, in the San Joaquin Valley, EPA has been involved for several years, as the campus was developed on rolling grasslands that included numerous vernal pool wetlands. These wetlands provide habitat for waterfowl, wildflowers and endangered fairy shrimp. EPA’s comments on the draft EIS and throughout the planning process led to preservation of 95% of the wetlands originally proposed to be filled, and mitigation for the rest through preservation, restoration and creation of similar wetlands.
In another case in the Southern California city of Hemet, the Federal Highway Administration, Caltrans, and Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) proposed a new alignment for State Route 79 that would have impacted a 1,000-acre alkali vernal pool complex. EPA’s extensive early interagency coordination on this project focused on the need to avoid impacts to vernal pools. In response, Hemet’s city government updated their general plan to remove this alignment as the locally preferred alternative, and the draft EIS will no longer include this alignment. EPA’s coordination on this project prior to the release of the draft EIS led to avoidance of the vernal pool complex.
In response to community concerns as well as EPA’s comments on the Port of Long Beach’s proposed Middle Harbor expansion, the port committed $15 million to mitigate the impacts of increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions on schools and day care centers, and medical and senior centers. The funding will be available for projects like installing air filtration systems in schools, replacing or retrofitting school buses to reduce diesel emissions, and mobile asthma testing and treatment stations for children.
Looking Back: The Six Originals
Their ranks have thinned in recent years as colleagues retired. Yet six “originals” remain, employees who are still working after 39, 40, even 43 years with EPA and its predecessor, the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration (FWPCA). They could have retired years ago, but they say they still enjoy the work.
Phil Woods, civil engineer and now Water Quality Standards Coordinator Emeritus, started in 1967, when the FWPCA regional office had only 40 employees and was located in a small building near Crown Beach in Alameda.
Phil retired in 2000, but took only six weeks off before returning on a part-time basis. Water Quality Standards are limits on each of more than a hundred chemicals and contaminants where EPA draws the lines between drinkable, swimmable, clean enough for fish and wildlife, or too polluted for these uses, for all surface waters in the region. Phil knows how, when and why each standard was set.
Melanie Blaha was hired as a writer and editor in January 1970 by FWPCA Regional Administrator Paul DeFalco. Her first job was translating dense technical reports written by agency engineers into plain English, so they could be released to the public.
Melanie wrote the Agency’s first brochure. “Our roles as employees were not yet clear, so we had the freedom to identify a need, fill it creatively, and make a lasting difference—unlike other federal agencies, where everything went by long-standing procedures.” Today Melanie coordinates international activities, like planning and directing visits by delegations of foreign visitors who come to learn how EPA works.
Arnold Den came to EPA on June 21, 1971, “right out of grad school.” Arnold had Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in environmental health, physiology, and industrial hygiene from the UCLA School of Public Health.
Arnold recalls two jobs as high points in his career. In 1985, helping conduct EPA’s national lake survey for acid rain, he flew by helicopter to 100 lakes in the Sierra Nevada to take water samples. More recently, he has taught risk assessment and risk communication workshops to federal and state employees. He’s taken the workshop on the road to Australia, Hong Kong, Saipan, American Samoa, and even Switzerland, by request of their governments.
Rich Hennecke had just graduated from Sacramento State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering when he started in the Enforcement Division in July 1971, reviewing construction projects planned for wetlands and waters.
Rich now coordinates audits and other programs in the Accounting Office. One of his tasks is overseeing the Senior Environmental Employment Program, which hires people over 55 years of age to work at EPA.
Wendell Smith came to EPA in November 1971. After the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, he helped set up procedures to carry it out. “It was like being an immigrant at Ellis Island—everybody was trying to figure out what to do next,” he remembers. “It was stressful but exciting.”
When EPA began making grants directly to Native American Tribes in the late 1980s, he established the region’s Tribal Water Quality Program. Many tribal communities lacked safe drinking water and sewage facilities. “What an opportunity to help!” he says. He began an intensive effort to inform tribes about EPA grants, and soon his desk overflowed with grant applications from tribes who began working with EPA.
Wally Woo got his graduate degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Massachusetts in December 1971, and was hired by EPA’s Boston regional office to review environmental impact statements. For 25 years, he was a manager, first in Boston, later in San Francisco.
In 1996 Wally became a coordinator of the then-new Brownfields Program, overseeing grants in California, Arizona and Hawaii. “Being a Brownfields Coordinator is fun,” he says. “It’s like playing Santa—selecting and overseeing grants to cities, to recycle industrial lands and reduce urban sprawl.”
Russ Frazer: Enforcement Officer, Toxics Release Inventory Team
A native of Bishop, in California’s Owens Valley, Russ Frazer grew up in the shadow of the Union Carbide Tungsten mine.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Russ feels right at home when inspecting mines as the enforcement lead for Region 9’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program. He also inspects a wide range of other facilities—from metal platers and chemical manufacturers, to bullet making factories and rendering plants.
Under TRI, certain facilities that use toxic chemicals must report to EPA how much they release into the environment. EPA compiles that information into a database that anyone with a computer can access, making TRI a powerful tool for communities. “The great thing about TRI is that it makes the toxic chemical release information easily available to the public—with no logins or password required,” says Frazer.
In fact, TRI is EPA’s largest public database, with data on 23,000 facilities nationwide and 1,600 in Region 9. Anyone can punch in their zip code to find and map TRI facilities in their area, or search for air, water, land, and underground releases by industry, city, state and county, and by chemical. TRI even includes the amounts of chemicals that were recycled, treated, used for energy recovery, and transported off-site for disposal.
“I’ve seen TRI work,” he says. “We’ve seen some facilities, whose TRI data is available for public scrutiny, voluntarily change their practices to reduce pollution, for example from trying out lead-free solder, instead of using lead-based solder. When they find it works, they are willing to switch.”
However, there are facilities subject to TRI that have never reported or have under-reported their chemical releases. On any given day Russ may be researching targets, talking with facilities, analyzing reams of data, writing reports, and working with Region 9 attorneys to resolve complicated case issues. He currently heads up TRI inspections at gold mining facilities, which release more mercury into the environment than any other industry in the U.S. The releases occur primarily from land disturbance of millions of pounds of waste rock and ore (both containing naturally-occurring mercury), fugitive emissions from heap-leach piles, and stack emissions from roasters.
Prior to his environmental career, Russ spent three years on a river patrol boat at the height of the Viet Nam war. These boats (depicted in the film “Apocalypse Now”) were easy targets for shooters hiding in the jungle. Russ was hit with shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade, earning him a Purple Heart.
After the war and engineering studies, he worked as industrial waste inspector with the Mountain View fire department. In 1976, Mountain View started its Industrial Waste Monitoring Program at a new secondary sewage treatment plant, which used bacteria to break down pollutants. To keep these facilities operating effectively and prevent toxics from reaching the Bay, cities had to prevent Silicon Valley industries from dumping toxics down the drain.
While there he became impressed with the potential power of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act that created TRI. Little did he know that, some two decades later, he would be a key player in its enforcement.
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