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Federal Support for State and Local Response Operations in Water Contamination Crises

The federal government, as shown in the Flint, Michigan water crisis, will come together as a team of federal agencies and provide assistance to communities where there are serious water problems that affect the public’s health. Typically, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response will lead the team of agencies which includes the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the US EPA in providing direct services and various types of aid. US Public Health Service officers are the first ones at the site and make necessary evaluations and rapid recommendations to correct the existing and potential health problems. They involve the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies as needed. All federal agencies work closely with state and local entities. (See endnote 48.)

Joaquin River Delta

(See endnote 41)

The delta is more than 50 miles inland from the Golden Gate Bridge but the waters rise and fall with ocean tides. It provides most of the fresh water of the San Francisco estuary. Before California became populated, the delta had a far different configuration than it has today. Dams and aqueducts have interrupted the natural flow of the rivers and the potential for pollution and contamination has increased substantially. The waters from this area are used by a very large number of Californians as far away as San Diego. Two thirds of the people in California and 4.5 million acres of farmland receive part of its waters. However, there is a serious concern today that the delta will sustain damage which will not be able to be repaired as areas will not be replenished by sediments in rivers flooding from the east or will be affected by salinity from the west if rivers flow too slowly. The constant removal of huge quantities of water from this area is causing these problems.

The CALFED Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration programs were established to improve water quality for drinking water and environmental and agricultural purposes, with a major focus of providing quality raw water to be used for drinking water. The water in this area already has above national normal levels of organic carbon and bromide, and the fish contain higher levels of metals like mercury and selenium. In 2009, the previous work was recognized by state elected officials and it was directed by law that the Delta Stewardship Council, a California state agency, be created to develop a master plan for the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Considerable funds have already been invested in a series of projects for the cost-effective improvement of the raw source water, use of Best Practices, and water management and treatment. This new strategic plan was developed with a major component of improving or keeping water quality from deteriorating while controlling sediment in this aquatic ecosystem. The plan includes reducing the amount and concentration of toxic substances, reducing the amount of oxygen- depriving materials brought about by human activities, and reducing fine sediment from human activities along the rivers and streams.

The plan includes working with a variety of agencies together to: reduce the amount of water taken from the delta; improve statewide water quality and supply through investments in local and regional water facilities; teaching consumers how to use water more efficiently and effectively; capturing and storing excess water from rainfall; protecting, restoring, and enhancing the delta ecosystem and protecting endangered species; detecting and destroying invading species, while reducing pollution; preserving rural lands for agriculture and similar use while limiting new residential, commercial, or industrial development; prohibiting encroachment on flood ways and water plains; flood proofing the delta including repairing and replacing where necessary, dams and levees; integrating all government action from all departments while using the best available science and Best Practices in making regulatory decisions; and rapid completion of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The two major goals of this plan are to provide a more reliable water source for California for drinking water and agriculture while protecting, restoring, and enhancing the delta ecosystem.

The plan implementation includes: establishing a strong leadership position with open lines of communication to all departments and consumer groups to coordinate all activities effectively and in a cost-effective manner; conducting frequent reviews of all activities and programs as well as in-depth inspections of all areas by professionals to determine if plan objectives are being met and pollutants are being removed from the delta area; and stopping all damaging activities that might affect the delta in an extremely rapid manner. Use court orders where necessary if no other type of action will work while using the latest science and Best Practices available in all decision-making concerning the delta and its waters. Develop means of storing floodwaters, which could be very destructive, until needed for use when droughts occur. Create new wetlands and other places for wildlife where they have been destroyed.

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