Poisoned Lands and the Grasslands Bypass Project

Salt on the ground, San Joaquin Valley

Courtesy of the Water Education Foundation.

Western San Joaquin Valley water districts and farmers partnered in 1994 to create the Grasslands Bypass Project, which shunts tainted irrigation drainwater around approximately 100,000 acres of land between Firebaugh and Los Banos west of the San Joaquin River. Water tables there are high and contaminated with high levels of salts, selenium, and other trace metals like mercury, boron and arsenic.

As part of the project, the farmers try to reduce the amount of tainted drainage water by reusing it to have the water consumed by salt-tolerant plants. Meanwhile what water that remains is highly concentrated with pollutants, and the farmers hope to get a pilot reverse osmosis treatment plant funded with public funds, and built to process the remaining drainage water.

C-WIN believes there remain serious long-term problems of cost and unproven treatment technology, and that the Grasslands area drainers should be given a two-year deadline by the State Water Board to come up with a solution, otherwise their polluted lands should be retired from irrigated agriculture (dryland farming could still be practiced, as it was as recently as the 1930s). Read our comments on the Grasslands Bypass Project Extension Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report earlier in 2009. 

C-WIN has obtained verification from an expert on selenium's effects on salmon that the Grasslands Bypass Project kills 50 percent of the juvenile salmon and steelhead in the San Joaquin River . See our comments and those of Dennis Lemly, Research Professor of Biology at Wake Forest University in Winston/Salem, North Carolina.

Read our comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report from October 2009.

Read our coalition comments on the Panoche Demonstration Treatment Plant from October 2011.

Read our coalition comments to the National Research Council on selenium.

Read our coalition letter to Reclamation Regional Director Don Glaser from November 2011 asking questions about the Panoche Demonstration Treatment Plant.

Read the comments from Patricia Schifferle/Pacific Advocates response to the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority on the Selenium Pollution Discharge Grasslands Photo Tour here.