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Selenium Discharges from Lehigh to Permanente Creek Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocate Committee for Green Foothills

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Presentation on theme: "Selenium Discharges from Lehigh to Permanente Creek Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocate Committee for Green Foothills"— Presentation transcript:

1 Selenium Discharges from Lehigh to Permanente Creek Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocate Committee for Green Foothills

2 Selenium Impacts to Aquatic Organisms Known to affect fish, amphibians, birds that prey on them Reproductive toxicity – eggs fail to hatch or young fail to develop, birth defects Bioaccumulative (builds up in organisms over time) Water Quality Objective (WQO) for selenium in the Bay Area is 5 µg/l

3 Impact on Human Health Selenium is necessary in small amounts, but harmful in larger amounts FDA recommended minimum amount is 70 µg/day; EPA maximum allowable dose is 350 µg/day for a 150-lb person Short term health effects: hair and fingernail loss, fatigue, irritability Long term effects: damage to liver, kidneys, nervous and circulatory systems

4 Kesterson Reservoir Runoff from agricultural lands; drained into Kesterson Wildlife Refuge Concentrations were found to be over 1400 µg/l Deformities in fish and birds included severe curvature of spine, missing eyes/beaks/legs, exposed brains In 1983, 64% of embryos and hatchlings of aquatic birds were found to be deformed (per USGS paper) 1987: Kesterson declared a toxic waste dump, drained and partially buried Ag runoff now goes to San Joaquin River (which now has elevated levels of selenium as well) or to on-site evaporation ponds

5 Lehigh Permanente Quarry Photo credit: Anne Ernst

6 Selenium at Lehigh Selenium is naturally occurring in the limestone on site; becomes mobilized on contact with air and water Lehigh has now mined below the level of the water table – groundwater constantly seeping into quarry pit Lehigh pumps water out of pit (“dewatering”) in order to mine further Water goes into retention pond (Pond 4), then pumped into creek Avg daily flow into pond: from 250,000 to 2.5 million gallons/day Selenium may also be leaching from piles of limestone rubble and waste in the creek

7 Selenium Levels on Lehigh Site Range between 13 to 81 µg/l in Permanente Creek immediately downstream from quarry pit Concentrations in runoff water from the waste piles ranged from 7.1 to 38 µg/l (EMSA) and 29 µgl (WMSA); runoff from “wall washing” of quarry walls was 14 µg/l Concentrations in quarry pit water: 82 µg/l Concentrations in “dewatering pond” (Pond 4A): 100 µg/l

8 Selenium Downstream From Lehigh in Permanente Creek Slightly elevated levels in Permanente Creek at Rancho San Antonio: 3 of 5 samples taken were above WQO (6, 9 and 12 µg/l); further downstream there were no detectable levels of selenium Inconclusive (only one sample performed) testing performed in 2011 just west of 280 showed no detectable levels of selenium Permanente Creek is listed by RWQCB as impaired for selenium

9 Other Pollutants Exceeding WQOs at Lehigh Mercury: WQO is µg/l; concentrations in creek range as high as 0.07 µg/l; surface water runoff as high as 0.36 µg/l Nickel: WQO is 52 µg/l; concentrations in creek range as high as 110 µg/l; surface water runoff as high as 180 µg/l Sulfate: WQO is 250 mg/l; concentrations in creek range as high as 1,110 mg/l; surface water runoff as high as 550 mg/l Molybdenum: WQO is 50 µg/l; concentrations in creek range as high as 750 µg/l; surface water runoff as high as 160 µg/l

10 Wildlife in Permanente Creek San Francisco Estuary Institute 2007 study documented several species of fish: California roach, Sacramento sucker, Threespine stickleback, bluegill, carp, rainwater killifish, and mosquitofish. Fish are mostly located west of 280 in the upper reaches. WRA conducted wildlife survey for Lehigh in 2009 and found: rainbow trout, Sacramento sucker, and mosquito fish 9 amphibious species were found including California red-legged frog. Birds in riparian area: great blue heron

11 What Is Being Done? RWQCB is requiring reports from Lehigh on their discharges to the creek RWQCB webpage on Lehigh: /water_issues/hot_topics/lehigh.shtml RWQCB regulation based on these reports: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit: probably in 2013 Sierra Club lawsuit MROSD lawsuit

12 Clean Water Act Regulated by RWQCB Prohibits discharge of any pollutant into waters of the U.S. except according to NPDES permit Lehigh has a general stormwater permit and a sand and gravel permit, but no NPDES permit Anyone may sue to enforce if they have standing Sierra Club lawsuit: discharge of pollutants without a permit; dumping quarry waste into creek

13 Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) Reclamation: restoring land to condition for beneficial use Reclamation Plan Amendment (RPA) describes what Lehigh will do to restore land to open space Lehigh plans to continue mining in quarry pit till 2020, then will start reprocessing material from WMSA and use waste to backfill quarry pit Material will continue to be dumped in EMSA till 2015, then will be revegetated Only covers reclamation, not actual mining or other activities (e.g. cement plant)

14 EIR for Lehigh’s Reclamation Plan Amendment CEQA/EIR overview Significant impacts found: aesthetics/visual quality, biological resources, cultural resources, water quality/hydrology Because EIR only evaluated impacts from reclamation activities, did not address any impacts due to actual mining or from cement plant MROSD lawsuit: EIR was inadequate; failed to mitigate impacts to air and water quality, visual resources, and wildlife


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