California’s Water Dirtier Than Ever

California has long had the reputation as the country’s “greenest” state. But a recent report mandated by the federal Clean Water Act suggests the state’s rivers, lakes and coastline are more polluted today than they were five years ago.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to the state’s EPA, between 2006 and 2011 overall toxicity of its waters increased by 170 percent.

“California has some of the most magnificent rivers, lakes and coastal waters in the country,” California EPA spokesman Nahal Mogharabi said in a news release. “However, of its 3.0 million acres of lakes, bays, wetlands and estuaries, 1.6 million acres are not meeting water quality goals and 1.4 million acres still need pollution clean-up plans.”

The twist on the report is that the state has improved its water monitoring system and uses better assessment tools today than it did five years ago. Unfortunately, the results of the testing have worsened.

“According to the state’s EPA, between 2006 and 2011 overall toxicity of its waters increased by 170 percent.”

The California study is especially timely because the state is on the verge of instituting its so-called Marine Life Protection Initiative, a controversial law requiring set asides of coastal areas into Marine Protected Areas, which has been heavily criticized by environmentalists as “greenwashing.” Its critics say the legislation—pushed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—is weak on protection from corporate aquaculture, oil exploration and spills, military testing and more, only putting real limits on fishermen.

Even the highly vaunted Monterey Bay Aquarium has come in for criticism, in part thanks to its support of the MPLA law. The museum was recently granted an exemption from a state ban on dumping wastewater into a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the bay, according to a report in California Watch. Critics of the exemption wonder why the museum is being allowed to dump its wastewater into a protected area while fishermen are not allowed to fish in the same area.

Museum communications director Ken Peterson told California Watch that the “so-called waste” was water originally taken from Monterey Bay and returned after circulating through the aquariums exhibits. “It is virtually as clean when returns to the ocean as it was when it came into the aquarium hours earlier.”


That’s just one example of the new law’s flaws, say critics, insisting the one thing the legislation fails to do is “protect water quality.” As evidenced by the state’s own recent studies, clean water is already a dubious issue in California.

Those opposed to the new law have suggested that in California MPA does not stand for Marine Protected Area, but rather Marine Poaching Area or Marine Polluted Areas.

(For the rest of my dispatches go to

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