Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Progress Report 2011:
Communities & Ecosystems
Creating a Healthier San Joaquin Valley
California’s 250-mile-long San Joaquin Valley, home to more than four million people and still growing, is severely threatened by air and water pollution.
This is the state’s top agricultural region, with more than 250 crops, including much of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Dairy products are California’s most valuable agricultural commodities; about 75% of the state’s dairy cows are here. Total production is more than $24 billion annually.
The valley owes its agricultural success to a remarkable water system. The federal Central Valley Project delivers fresh water from the Delta and San Joaquin River to farms. The State Water Project brings Delta water to farms and cities. Most of the water is used for agriculture. Valley communities rely mostly on ground water to drink. Surface waters support wetlands critical for wintering waterfowl.
The Human and Environmental Toll
The valley’s unique topography and wind patterns trap air pollution. The California Air Resources Board estimates that 2,400 deaths each year are associated with fine particulate air pollution here. The valley has some of the state’s highest rates of childhood asthma. Transportation, specifically diesel trucks, is the largest air pollution source.
Dairies and feedlots generate large quantities of manure, and agriculture uses toxic pesticides. Farms, wetlands, and communities contend with poor water quality. The San Joaquin River boasted one of California’s largest salmon runs before nearly 95% of its water was diverted for irrigation. The salmon are gone, and the river and its wetlands, once teeming with wildlife, are a small remnant compared with a century ago.
The valley has high rates of poverty and unemployment. One bright spot: a recent study found that renewable energy and High Speed Rail development could create more than 100,000 jobs.
Solutions underway in 2011
EPA and state and local partner agencies are finding solutions for the valley’s severe environmental and health challenges. The Agency’s work of issuing permits for facilities that affect air and water quality, oversight of state regulators, reviewing Environmental Impact Statements, and environmental cleanup is guided by principles of environmental justice, partnership, transparency, and vigorous environmental law enforcement.
One goal is to reduce the valley’s fine particulate air pollution through regulatory action and accelerating adoption of clean air technologies and cleaner transportation. EPA is working with California and the San Joaquin Valley Air District to reduce this pollution 34% from 2009 levels, to attain the federal clean air standard by 2014. New regulations on air emissions will affect industrial boilers, refineries, paints, and consumer products.
To help restore fish and wildlife, EPA is working with state and federal partners to update regulations to reduce toxic selenium in the Delta, and initiate regional water quality monitoring. Fifty miles of the San Joaquin riverbed, bone dry half the year since 1940 due to water diversions, is now being restored by new, legally mandated water releases from Friant Dam.
EPA and its state and federal partners are reducing environmental impacts of animal waste and agriculture by supporting adoption of clean technologies such as dairy waste digesters and conservation tillage, which minimizes pollution from dust and diesel while saving energy and money.
EPA is an active partner in ongoing state and community efforts to spur sustainable economic development in the valley’s Fresno, Kings, and Kern Counties. This includes working with federal housing and transportation agencies and the California High Speed Rail Authority to plan development along future rail routes and stations, as well as helping the South Kern community and The California Endowment to reduce public health risks.
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