Pesticide Pollution and Other Problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Estuary
When the Spanish first saw the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta in the 1770’s, it was a vast lively marsh (Department of Water Resources). Later unsuccessful 49ers began to build levies to farm the “swamp-like” land having not gained the wealth that the propaganda of the time promised (Department of Water Resources). Today about 2/3 of California‘s irrigated farmland depends on the delta resulting in the Delta water being an important economic component in California’s largely agricultural economy. This poses questions about the actual economic value of the delta beyond the ecological. It is well known that California has the 5th largest overall economy in the world (Department of Water Resources), which makes this a Natural Resource Economic issue. The Delta serves “the Bay area, the Silicon Valley, the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, and Southern California” (Department of Water Resources). Many people in the deltaic region of California will agree that the delta is in need of help to restore the natural ecosystem for the recreational value of the delta and for water quality issues. Furthermore with all the people relying on the delta for water supply, the scary news is that the population of the entire San Joaquin Valley is estimated to double by 2040 (Bender).
The San Joaquin Delta is one of the most important water ways in California and one of the more unique in the world. It feeds the aqueous needs of more than 20 million Californians and more than 4.5 million acres of agricultural land/industry, in fact 50% of deltaic water is diverted all over the state for various anthropogenic uses(Save the Bay). Let alone there being a huge economic/human reliance on the delta but the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta is a very unique and degraded estuary/marshland/ecosystem. Pollution, particularly anthropogenic and/or agricultural/industrial, is a major problem for the delta. Pesticides, fertilizers, human waste, surfactants, livestock waste, irrigation runoff, mining and other industry are just a few of the reasons for pollution. Most people haven’t historically paid attention to the ecological impact of developing the delta marshland into hospitable living space for residential, commercial, and particularly and primarily, as in the first, agricultural use, let alone the impact of these anthropogenic uses.
There are several rivers that make up the SSJ (Sacramento-San Joaquin) delta/San Francisco Estuary. Much of the freshwater feeding the SSJ delta comes from the Sacramento River from the north and the San Joaquin River from the south (Save the Bay). These rivers reach nearly 700 miles inland creating a “watery maze of wetlands, mudflats, and farmland (Save the Bay).” There are some sanctuaries available for the remaining wildlife but with the degradation of the natural wetland that the entire Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley once used to be, much of the natural endemic wildlife is being pushed out but invasive species including humans and their needs from the land. Millions of creatures use the delta as a habitat throughout the year. As a result of the SSJ delta being so important to many organisms, including humans and the Californian economy.
Reasons Why Economists Should Care about The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta:
The following lists show some demographic, land use and other information about the delta from the Department of Water Resources Webpage, showing how the delta is economically important:
Area within the San Joaquin Delta:
The Bay-Delta is the West Coast’s largest estuary.
64,000 Cities and towns
61,000 Water surface
Total acreage: 738,000
(Department of Water Resources)
Miles of Levees (total mileage, 1987): 1,100
(Department of Water Resources)
Rivers flowing into the Delta (Order Unspecific):
2. San Joaquin
(These rivers & their tributaries carry about 1/2 of the state’s tot. an. runoff.)
(Department of Water Resources)
Drinking water for 22 million people; supports California’s trillion-dollar economy (fifth largest in the world) and $27 billion agricultural industry.
(Department of Water Resources)
Average Annual Gross Value-over $500 million
Main Crops (Order unspecific):
2. Grain and Hay
3. Sugar beets
(Department of Water Resources)
Plant and Animal Species:
(Department of Water Resources)
Major Anadromous Fish (Order unspecific):
2. Striped Bass
3. Steelhead Trout
4. American Shad
(Department of Water Resources)
Delta preservation efforts are focused on keeping 22 million people drinking water and watering $27 Billion dollars worth of commodities in the valley to promote the economy rather than preservation of ecology.
The ecological health of a Water System or any Natural Resource system that is providing Natural Services is very important. People traditionally have seen the biosphere as inexhaustible, and only in recent decades have we began to understand that we actually live in a fairly closed system and that an ecological-sink for our wastes will eventually fill up and flood other places we don’t want filled. A healthy person with a healthy liver can consume quite a bit of alcohol before becoming fatally ill, but someone of lesser health with a weaker liver may only be able to consume half of what the healthy person can, and this is true for an ecosystem.
Economists are always looking at the bottom line, and if it seems economically viable to deal with a problem immediately as opposed to waiting they will suggest to do so, however the ecosystem, a living thing in essence, sometimes need preventative care to maintain function and often those functions are not quantifiable by the “normal” economic model. Now, we back to the science.
Sacramento - San Joaquin Delta Issues Before Pesticides
The San Joaquin Delta is an important Californian water Resource in multiple respects. The delta for centuries has been the culminating last stop for many rivers and inland water systems in central California before it enters the Pacific Ocean. Before the presents of humans the delta went about business as a normal marshland/estuary, supporting a plethora of wild organisms from grizzly bears, antelopes, tule elk, blacktail dear, plant life and other aquatic wildlife (Shaw). Now, with its ideal and productive soils, and the accessibility of water it has become overrun with Agricultural Industries and is facing newer threats of even larger levies and development with California’s growing human population leaking over from the Bay (Bender).
Many of the rivers leading to the delta are used to fill the California Aqueduct and supply farms and residents in the Valley with water that once went to the delta (Bender). This creates a very specific problem. The delta now, no longer always has the ability to keep the saline waters from the ocean out, disrupting the quality of the soil around the delta’s mouth, which also pushes endemic wildlife back away from their more natural habitats (Lee). Another issue is the seepage of agricultural waste, especially Fertilizers and Pesticides (Lee). The pesticides, herbicides too, kill some species and create new issues for some other species beyond killing their food source, such as disrupting reproduction in fish and birds decline their number father. The fertilizers also tend to have adverse affects on species causing mutations among other problems. The specific issue with some fertilizers is that it fertilizes the natural algae in the delta causing algal blooms and deoxygenation of deltaic waters (Lee). This suffocates many aquatic species by creating quasi or complete dead zones (Lee). Another municipal issue is human waste matter that ends up in the SSJ delta (specifically from Stockton). This increases ammonia in the waters, which also kills more fish and other organisms(Lee). Ultimately these disturbances have economic impacts that at the time go unseen, including the loss of many fisheries that once used the natural resources of food matters for their fish (Lee).
Furthermore with the high nutrient levels from runoff and fertilizer contamination and nitrogen pollution in the Delta there is an overabundance of algae and delta weeds such as Hyacinth (Lee). Moreover algal blooms decompose it causes a depletion in Oxygen (Lee). This causes problems with fish and the oxygen depletion is then aggravated by the pumping of water out of the Delta in Tracey and Banks and from wastewater pollutants like ammonia from Stockton (Lee). Making things grimmer, invasive species like the Asian clam also have taken fish food sources decline (Lee). So to culminate some of the things killing fish-food sources in the delta, they would be chemical pollution, hypoxia, salinity, and competition with invasive species. It is no wonder that there aren’t many fisheries on the delta anymore as there were about 20 years ago (Lee). As elsewhere discussed in this paper some of these pollution forms interrupt fish reproduction and homing abilities of certain kinds of fish by disrupting their olfactory sense (Lee).
Reach of Pesticides
Most of the problems seem to come from agricultural pesticides, fertilizers, industry and anthropogenic water consumption. Many of these problems were discovered in the 1980’s. At this time a lot of agricultural reforms began and a new surge of technology began to change agriculture and resource management by leaps and bound. Agriculture uses a lot less water now than it did 20 years ago (Bender) as the industry has undergone water reform.
Pesticides are a big problem. In 1995, it was projected that 113.5 million kg of pesticides were used to control pests on some of California’s leading crops, and 20% of all pesticide used came from local home owners (Lydy). This is a relatively terrifying fact, considering how much emphasis is placed on farmers to cut back. From 1940-1970 some of the pesitcides used included various organochlorides like DDT, lindane, chlordane, toxaphene, and dieldrin (Lydy). These have accumulated in the biomass of the delta and frightenly are still present in substantial quantities in fish and other organisms although some of these have been banned for years (Connor). Many of these organochlorides are carcinogenic to bird and cause issues with nesting, like DDT in egg-shell development (Lydy).
Organochlorines (like DDT, Chloradane, Dieldrin, etc.), PCBs, Dioxins/Furans, and Mercury bio-accumulate in fish and other organisms as well. Organophosphorus-based insecticides, Diazinon, Chlorpyrifos also introduce issues with Fish-food Organisms (Lee); bioaccumulation is a major issue with many of these natural organisms. Certain herbicides have been at times found at high enough concentrations in the delta to be toxic to algae (Lee). Moreover the high concentrations of Trihalomethanes in the Delta Waters in addition to high TOC (total organic carbons) are so high that water it costs water treatment plants more money to clear up the water for human consumption (Lee), let alone ecological impacts.
The delta as a water source for humans in the form of ground water face another issue with the saline contents particularly in the south delta has hampered the delta’s ability to recharge groundwater supplies there. Mining of mercury and gold over that past 2 centuries has yielded increases in many heavy metals in the deltaic soils and therefore in the waters too (Pasternack). Many of these heavy metals have accumulated in delta organisms. Some chemicals other than heavy metals are detrimental to even human consumption of delta water such as human pharmaceuticals, personal care products, endocrines, trihalomethanes, perchlorates, and polybrominated diphenal ethers (Lee). These chemicals affect ecosystem services like replenishing ground water and drinking water is a big concern for human ecology. Ground water alone provides near or more than 39% of Californians’ water usage (Lam). In turn all of these pollutants don’t only cost humans financially by having to clean up the water for drinking, but it destroys ecosystem services.
There are programs to help inform people of the delta. Regional Monitoring Program (RMP) for Trace Substances is a program designed to outline many environmental issues (Thompson) and is also applicable to the delta. The purpose of this RPM is to help with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board by describing patterns and trends of contaminant concentrations and distributions, describe sources, pathways and loadings, measure contaminant effects on selected parts of the estuary, compare monitoring information to relevant water quality objectives and other guidelines, and lastly to synthesize and distribute information on contamination of the estuary (Thompson). The RPM sampling is good for measuring contaminants in the water, the sediment, toxicity, and bioaccumulation in bivalves and fish in San Francisco (SF) Estuary and the SSJ delta. What they found in the SF estuary in 1994-1997 was that the concentrations of mercury, PCBs, total DDTs, total chlordane and dieldrin exceed water control objectives (Thompson). Bioaccumulations of contaminants as seen in the RPMs were also found to be high enough in fish that they resulted in human exposure through consumption of fish (Thompson).
There are multitudes of ways to analyze pollution in the delta. Organic chemistry is where it is at since most of the deltaic chemical ailments are organic-based. There are chemicals like mercury, aluminum, and many other inorganic substances that can cause havoc but pesticides, fertilizers and other anthropogenic sources such as surfactants and municipal wastes are the real culprits. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made a decision to phase-out organophosphate insecticides because of their toxicity to humans and replace organophosphates with pyrethoids (a naturally occurring chemical in chrysanthemum) (Mekebri). Pyrethriods are primarily a neurotoxin to insects and enlist the concerns by water control agencies in that they can act as estrogens to certain fish and can be extremely toxic to other aquatic organisms (Mekebri). It seems we are damned if we do or damned if we don’t.
There are several easements that go toward protecting and rehabilitating the SSJ delta’s habitats and maintaining sustainable agriculture in the general region (Bender). The delta is a very important water resource for California and preservation is of the up most importance. Therefore, preservation efforts are focused on keeping 22 million people drinking clean water and watering $27 Billion dollars worth of commodities in the valley to promote the economy. The pollution in the delta makes things look grim, but the state is doing things to help. The delta, as a major resource has many motives to its maintenance. Economically, if the delta falters, not only will there be a loss in economic productivity, but more people are are going to be sick, and last minute measures to fix and clean up a system that scientists do not fully understand is honestly a bad business investment.
There appears to be no easy fix for chemical pollution in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. I would guess that the best way to deal with chemical pollution is to stop polluting, however there is so much chemical out there already with a reach that may be unforeseen. What about the economic impacts and human ecology issues of radical change, economically it would be wise to preserve the delta, but how do you create the figures that would be needed to motivate classically trained economists? There could always be innovations in production or market pressure to try a more “organic” approach to agricultural, but “organic” farming is economically inefficient when competing directly with conventional. So, obviously there are no clear-cut answers to preserving and restoring the SSJ delta and research is obviously needed.
Improvements are always being made, but sometimes that answers we come up with aren’t better than the original problems. Look at the concept of like replacing organophosphate with pyrethoids. Moreover the use of many of these chemicals is very far reaching and last for centuries like mercury contamination from mining in the 1800s.
The issues with chemical pollution in the delta are endless. And I assume that people are somewhat to blame. Humans like other organisms are trying to make their living environment more convenient to their living necessities. People have for centuries have used the Earth’s resources and natural ecosystem services as do other organisms and like many organisms as long as things like population are kept in check the ecosystem is able to recover from the natural degradation that it undergoes through use. However we do not know what our own carrying capacity is. Therefore without applying the principle of general ecology on humans we don’t essentially know much about the result of our presence in this quaintly on this planet using these kinds of resources, and when economics are tossed into the equation we are further handicapped.
Still, there is no sure way to measure exactly how much damage is natural and how much is anthropogenic. We do know that many pesticides and other organic chemicals are our fault. This snapsot offers little as to how to deal with pollutants in the SSJ delta and SF estuary, but it does show some of the sources and some of the chemicals present. It does not go into too much detail as there is much data out there dealing with chemicals in the SSJ delta. California is a big state, the most populous with a formitable economy of its own, but we have been known to be trend setters and innovaters. Our population and economy makes water issues a big deal. Water is a big deal and economic valuable, and therefore restoring the systems that supply it are paramount. But like most issues involved in Natural Resource Economics those are numbers that are hard to quantify. We don’t know how many people the delta can support along with our economic needs that are directly placed on the delta, whether we are aware of that or not. So now that we know how important delta health is to us as living things, can we find a way to economically validate its preservation and restoration, or is that number too abstract for the system of economics?
Bender, Mark PhD. (2006). Class, Fall 2006 CSU Stanislaus: Planning Issues in Agriculture. Various Lectures.
Department of Water Resources (2006). Where Rivers Meet; The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Public Affairs; State Water Project-Delta 12-1-2008. http://www.publicaffairs.water.ca.gov/swp/d elta.cfm.
Lam, R.; J. Brown; A. Fran; A. Milea. 1994. Chemicals in California drinking water: source contaminants, risk management, and regulatory standards.. Journal of Hazardous Materials 39 (1994) 173-192
Lee, F. G. and A. Jones-Lee. 2004. Overview of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta Water Quality Issues. G. Fred Lee & Associates, El Macero, CA.
Lydy, MJ; KR Austin. 2004. Toxicity Assessment of Pesticide Mixtures Typical of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta using Chironomus Tentans. . Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 48, 49-55 (2004)
Mekebri, A; DB Crane; GJ BLondina; DR Oros, JL Rocca. 2008. Extraction and Analysis Methods for Determination of Pyrethroid Insecticides in Surface Water, Sediments, and Biological tissues at Environmentally Relevant Concentrations. Bull Environmental Contamination Toxicology (2008) 80:455-460
Pasternack, GB; KJ Brown. 2005. Natural and anthropogenic geochemical signatures of floodplain and deltalic sedimentary strata, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California, USA. Environmental Pollution 141 (2006)295-309
Shaw, Hanks (2006). Environmental Issues Still Face The Region. Recordnet.com.12-6-2008. http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060217/SPECIALSECTIONS0902/602190301
Save the Bay (2005). The Bay Classroom: Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Save the Bay. 12-6-2008. http://www.savesfbay.org/site/pp.asp?c=dgKLLSOwEnH&b=993829
Thompson, Bruce; Rainer Hoenicke; Jay Davis; Andrew Gunther. 2000. An overview of contaminant-related issues identified by monitoring in San Francisco Bay. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 64: 409-419, 2000.