EPA Finalizes California’s List of Polluted Waters, mercury in Sierra fish is a main concern

The following is excerpted from the 10/11/11 EPA Region 9 press release
For more information, contact: Nahal Mogharabi, mogharabi.nahal@epa.gov

For a local analysis of this information by the Union newspaper, see article below:  “Many county waterways contain unsafe levels of mercury in fish”

Trends Include 170% Increase In Toxicity Listings Since 2006

SAN FRANCISCO, 11 October 2011 — More of California’s waterways are impaired than previously known, according to a list of polluted waterways submitted by the state to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and finalized by the agency today. Increased water monitoring data shows the number of rivers, streams and lakes in California exhibiting overall toxicity have increased 170 percent from 2006 to 2010.

California has some of the most magnificent rivers, lakes and coastal waters in the country. 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 a pollution clean-up plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Of the 215,000 miles of shoreline, streams and rivers, 30,000 miles are not meeting water quality goals, and 20,000 miles still need a TMDL. The most common contaminants in these waterways are pesticides and bacteria, followed by metals and nutrients.

“Clean water is vital to California’s public health, economy, recreation and wildlife,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “California has done an excellent job of increasing the amount of water monitored. Unfortunately, much of the new data points in the wrong direction. This list of impaired waters is a wake-up call to continue the critical local and statewide work needed to heal California’s damaged waters. “

The Clean Water Act requires states to monitor and assess their waterways and submit a list of impaired waters to EPA for review. The 2010 list is based on more comprehensive monitoring as well as new assessment tools that allow the state to evaluate larger quantities of data.

The data showed several important trends including:

The numbers of listings showing pollutants in fish are at levels too high for safe human consumption has increased 24% from 2006 to 2010, with the greatest increases seen in mercury. Rather than signaling an increase in fish contamination, this trend is due to California’s recent statewide sport fish monitoring effort. Additionally, some pollutants such as DDT are no longer manufactured and are slowly decreasing in concentration over time.

Last year, California submitted to EPA for approval its list of polluted rivers, lakes and coastal waters. EPA added several waterways to the list, including portions of the San Joaquin River, where increasing temperatures and salinity imperil salmon and trout populations. Following public comment, EPA today finalized the additions.

Today’s action will lead to the development and adoption of hundreds of pollution clean-up plans by California to restore waters to swimmable, fishable and drinkable conditions. Work is already underway in California to address hundreds of waters previously listed as impaired. EPA will continue to work with the state to develop and implement additional TMDLs to address the remaining waters.

The supporting documents for EPA’s listing decision and a link to the list submitted by California are available at EPA’s web site:

For information on Total Maximum Daily Loads, please visit EPA’s web site: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/cwa/tmdl/index.cfm

For the full list of EPA’s added waters, maps, and more information, please visit EPA’s media center at: http://www.epa.gov/region9/mediacenter/impaired-waters/


Many county waterways contain unsafe levels of mercury in fish
Article from The Union
By Matthew Renda
Staff Writer


24 October 2011 – California rivers have more dangerous chemicals than previously believed, environmental officials reported this month.

The increase in reported toxicity levels is largely due to increased monitoring and better assessment tools, rather than unchecked pollution, said Nahal Mogharabi, a spokesman with the Environmental Protection Agency.

For instance, samples of fish tissue indicating unsafe levels of mercury increased 24 percent from 2006 to 2010, with the greatest increases seen in mercury, Mogharabi said in a prepared statement.

Mercury contamination of fish is found in many of Nevada County’s waterways, including the South Fork of the Yuba River.

“The most notable issue identified with waters in Nevada County are mercury contamination of fish tissue that make fish unsafe for humans and wildlife to consume,” Mogharabi said in an e-mail to The Union.

According to a recent EPA study, one out of nine Rainbow Trout were shown to have trace mercury amounts in excess of the recommended federal and state standards (3 milligrams of methylmercury per 1 kilogram of fish tissue). The samples were taken from one mile downstream of the town of Washington, according to the study. Only fish above 150 millimeters were sampled as that is the length of fish most often taken home and consumed by sport fishermen, the study reported.

The reach of Deer Creek beginning at Deer Creek reservoir to Lake Wildwood, Little Deer Creek, Hum Bug Creek and Gold Run were other waterways within county that were found to have unsafe mercury levels in fish samples.

Additionally, the upper reach of Bear River (from Combie Lake to Camp Far West Reservoir), which also extends into Placer County, showed fish contamination.

In nearby waterways in neighboring counties, the Middle Fork of the Yuba River and Rollins Reservoir displayed similar mercury problems.

The danger to humans comes when mercury becomes biologically available in the form of methylmercury, which accumulates in the food chain and reaches harmful levels in the sport-fish that people most regularly consume, Mogharabi said.

She said that installing best management practices and oxygenation of lakes and reservoirs are two immediate ways to reduce mercury levels found in fish.

“In a historic mining area, many best management practices can be implemented to retain sediment rich in mercury on site such that rain events won’t wash it into creeks, rivers and lakes,” Mogharabi said.

Relating to oxygenation, Mogharabi said the state has begun to develop a statewide “Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load for reservoirs which will serve as a pollution clean up plan for many of the waters in Nevada County currently impaired by mercury.”

Chris Shutes, president of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said the presence of mercury in fish is a concern for those who consume what they catch and is hopeful state and federal officials continue to search for solutions.

“I know it is a long-term process, but remediation efforts are underway in a lot of areas and I hope it continues,” he said.

The EPA listed 2021 as the date when mercury levels will drop below hazardous efforts if recommended best management practices are implemented.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, e-mail mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.


Thousands of waterbodies are on State Clean Water Act Section 303(d) lists as impaired due to mercury, often due to high mercury levels in fish.

Mercury accumulates in fish tissue as methylmercury, the form that presents the greatest risk to human health through consumption of contaminated fish.

In many waterbodies, mercury originates largely from air sources, such as coal-fired power plants and incinerators that deposit in waters or adjacent lands that then wash into nearby waters.

Contributions may come from a combination of local, regional, and international sources. In some cases the presence of mercury may be a result of past practices that used mercury, such as historic gold mining, or from geologic deposits.

In January 2001, EPA published a new water quality criterion for methylmercury that, for the first time, expresses a human health criterion as a concentration in fish and shellfish tissue concentration rather than in the water.

-Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency

For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.

The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

  1. Do not eat:
    • Shark
    • Swordfish
    • King Mackerel
    • Tilefish
    They contain high levels of mercury.
  2. Eat on average up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish are acceptable low-mercury alternatives.
  3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes and rivers.

    -Source: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration