USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

April 17, 2013

Emerging Contaminants: A brief look at effects on The Clam and More

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , — lecollin @ 10:44 am

Have you ever tasted a grain of salty baking soda in an otherwise a sweet cookie? That grain of baking soda could be classified as an emerging contaminant, as it has reached levels that were previously not at high enough levels to be noticed. As a society we have managed to develop infrastructure and sewage treatment plants for human waste, but there is new issue. There are certain materials that cannot be removed, and are accumulating in our water.These emerging contaminants, such as PCBs and nonylphenol, ingredients being used in industrial detergents, are being discovered in our waterways.

Household and Industry are two primary sources of emerging contaminants. They interact directly with bodies of water, even in areas that have functioning wastewater treatment systems. Courtesy of Mira Petrović, Susana Gonzalez, Damià Barceló,

Household and Industry are two primary sources of emerging contaminants. They interact directly with bodies of water, even in areas that have functioning wastewater treatment systems. Courtesy of Mira Petrović, Susana Gonzalez, Damià Barceló,

Analysis and removal of emerging contaminants in wastewater and drinking water.

As you might have been able to infer, an emerging contaminant is one that “is being discovered in water that previously had not been detected or are being detected at levels that may be significantly different than expected” as stated on the EPA website. These contaminants, which include human birth control and pesticides just to name a few, are interacting with our ecosystem, often causing adverse health issues in marine organisms. Although emerging contaminants are not as important as other water issues in the context of human health, it is tantamount to the health of the ecosystem that we fully identify what is going on in an attempt to mitigate these pollutants.

The problem with emerging contaminants is that it is not fully understood what the effects of certain unidentifiable pollutants are, but in the marine environment thus far, the effects have been adverse. Some EC’s, such as synthetic estrogen found in birth control that are not destroyed in the sewage treatment process, are released into the ocean and have been shown to cause serious problems for species in the water. According to the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, in a recent project that assessed emerging contaminant effects on coastal fish, they discovered that “some [emerging contaminants] have been shown to cause endocrine disruption after being released to the environment, as they either mimic or interfere with the action of reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone” (SCCWRP 2012). Because many of these contaminants that are entering the marine environment are not monitored by any existing programs due the difficulty in analyzing and quantifying them, not much is know about what the full effects may be on marine organisms and human health.

A program that has existed since 1986 called Mussel Watch, performed by NOAA, is using the success of their water quality monitoring system to further understand emerging contaminants and their effects on the marine ecosystem as well as their potential effects on humans. Mussels, which are a bivalve, filter-feeding species, bioaccumulate contaminants in their tissues and can be used as indicators of local contamination. The program analyzes native bivalves by extracting tissue and analyzing the samples with instruments. The concern is that if the emerging contaminants that so little is known about is disrupting the health of marine species, it may also be bioaccumulating in humans and having unknown adverse effects. We already know and are working to eliminate existing pollutants that are continuously being monitored, but what about the ones we don’t know about? The goal of this addition to the Mussel Watch project is to come to a better understanding of what exactly it is we may be dealing with in the future.

We are currently at a point where we are still identifying all of the different contaminants and what impacts and risks they create to us and our ecosystems. There are various methods of treatment which are can be integrated into pre-existing treatment plants. However, it is a difficult issue that is not fully understood, which makes implementation difficult. It is a step forward, though, that we are addressing these problems before they manifest themselves on a larger scale with other populations, including humans.

 

By Clayton Greene and Dana Handy

 

Works Cited

Mira Petrović, Susana Gonzalez, Damià Barceló. “Analysis and removal of emerging contaminants in wastewater and drinking water.TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry. 2003: 685-696. Online Journal.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165993603011051

“Project: Southern California Mussel Watch.” SCCWRP. N.p., 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2013. <http://www.sccwrp.org/ResearchAreas/Contaminants/ContaminantsOfEmergingConcern/SouthernCaliforniaMusselWatch.aspx>.

Terry L Wade, José L. Sericano, Piero R Gardinali, Gary Wolff, Laura Chambers.  “NOAA’s Mussel Watch project: Current use organic compounds in bivalves”.Volume 37, Issues 1–2, January–February 1998, Pages 20-26. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X98001271

http://toxics.usgs.gov/regional/emc/

http://www.hml.noaa.gov/ohh/envchem/emergecont.aspx

 

 

Clean Beaches: In the Hands of the People

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , , — lecollin @ 10:42 am

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Ever seen one of the signs above before? The infamous (and rather alarming) red and white signs warn beachgoers that the water quality in that area is below safe standards. Enacted in 1997, California State legislature passed AB 411 to regulate safe water quality levels. Defined by the EPA, the federal standards are monitored through the Department of Health Services to protect swimmer’s health and local economies. Because 85% of tourism in the U.S. is dependant on coastal regions, there is a lot of pressure to keep local beaches clean. (NRDC-National Resources Defense Council).

Unfortunately, many of the beaches in the U.S. suffer from high levels of bacteria like enterococci and E. coli indicating animal and human waste present in the water. The NRDC graph below shows that beaches are consistently closed for high bacteria levels over other reasons. Officials will often also close beaches for precautionary reasons due to high amounts of rainfall and increased storm water pollution or in rare cases a known sewage leak or oil spill.

http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/

http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/

However, due to the uncertainty of the economy the EPA has cut $10 million typically given to states for beach water testing and oversight. Now local authorities are presented with the task of cleaning up beaches and identifying the sources of Fecal Indicator Bacteria. The EPA stated that local governments possess the skills and expertise to continue beach testing without federal support (Tribune Business News).

While some people fear that beaches will be in a terrible state due to the budget cuts, local officials are confident that they will be self-sufficient in beach testing. Local comities can also make a difference by promoting green infrastructures. A Green infrastructure is “a network of decentralized stormwater management practices – such as green roofs, trees, rain gardens, and permeable pavement – that can capture and infiltrate rain where it falls” (American Water Works Association). Ultimately green infrastructures would reduce runoff pollution and boost the health of local beaches making them safer for the many beachgoers and the surrounding communities.

Although, federal aid in beach testing has been very important in most states; however, budget cuts do not necessarily mean that all beachgoers health will be at risk. Local authorities are confident that beach testing and frequency will stay the same. According to a Fox news article  Rhonda Kolberg, a member of the Door County Health Department, remains optismtic beach testing will continue frequently this year despite budget cuts. The public should continue to be strong advocates of beach cleanup and water quality testing not only to improve the beauty of U.S. beaches but also to improve their own health and economy.

By Christine Irvin & Esmy Jimenez

Works Cited

Myers, John. “Lake Superior Beach Bacteria Testing Set to Start next Week.” Proquest.com. McClatchy – Tribune Business

News, 23 May 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

Smith, Laura. “Funding Cut Jeopardizes Beach Testing.” WLUK TV. N.p., 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

“Testing the Waters.” Testing The Waters, Prevent Beach Pollution. Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012. Web.

27 Mar. 2013.

United States. Public Law. BEACHES ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT AND COASTAL HEALTH ACT OF 2000.

N.p., 10 Oct. 2000. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

 

April 16, 2013

Safe Swimming Water: At What Cost?

Saturday rolls around with a perfect weather forecast, so you head out to the beach hoping to soak up the sun and take a dip in the ocean. Your spirits are high as your feet hit the warm sand until you see a red sign reading “KEEP OUT: Sewage Contaminated Water. Exposure May Cause Illness.” Though the beach closure may seem to ruin your weekend, at least it prevents you from a worse fate: spending the weekend with the stomach flu, pinkeye, or another water-borne illness.

Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act (hyperlink to: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/beachrules/act.cfm) of 2000, recreational waters are required to be tested and monitored for indicators of water-borne pathogens. The measurement of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) levels is most common, as the BEACH Act complies with the Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2000). Additionally, the public is to be informed of water quality and health risks associated with coming into contact with polluted water. Federal funds are to be distributed amongst local and state agencies to pay for water quality testing and information dispersal.

Though the nation is facing economic hardship, budget cuts regarding water quality should be limited. Federal funding and regulation is critical to ensure safe water without water-borne illness for swimmers and beach goers. In the long run, funding water quality tests pays off—public health costs due to gastrointestinal illness caused by polluted water were estimated to be tens of millions of dollars each year (Given, et al 2006). Not to mention that about 85% of the nation’s tourism comes from coastal states, much of that coming from visitors spending the day at the beach (NRDC).

However, testing and water quality requirements were already minimal due to a lack of resources, but recent budget cuts have made financial matters even more restricting. The proposed overall budget for the EPA in 2013 is $8.3 billion, $700 million less than the budget in 2012 (EPA, 2013). A $10 million Federal grant to test water quality usually given to states with a coastline or that border Great Lakes is also being cut out (Barboza, 2012). These budget cuts continue to make it difficult for states to receive high ratings on beach and water quality tests.

Most states that are in need of water quality testing and routine beach assessment do not currently have the funds, knowledge, or personnel to maintain water and beach quality well enough to keep beachgoers from falling ill. Heavily dependent on revenue from tourism and recreational water activities, these coastal states cannot afford to have poor water quality.

Jon Devine, an attorney with the National Resource Defense Council outlined a few possible consequences by saying, “the potential is that states will decrease the number of beaches they monitor, the frequency or cut back on resources they use to notify the public about conditions at the beach. We’d likely see a reduction in information about an important public health concern (Fears, 2011)”

The Federal government has been pushing for states to preserve beaches using their own resources and methods because they believe states have the knowledge, expertise, and funds required to enforce policies and do the work to sustain clean water and beaches. This certainly is not the case and the health of all beachgoers is at risk if the Federal government does not give states the funds and resources needed.

In order to maintain water quality and keep the public informed, the federal government must continue to enforce strict water quality standards and help state and local governments fund testing operations. If not, the health of beach goers and the success of coastal economies may be in jeopardy.

 

Brittany Hoedemaker is a freshman from Bellevue, Washington. She is currently an Environmental Studies major at USC. Devin Grigsby is a sophomore from Mill Creek, Washington. He is interested in sustainability and agriculture.

 

Works Cited

Barboza, Tony. “Federal Funds For Health Testing At Beaches To Be Eliminated.” LA Now. LA Times, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/02/epa-to-eliminate-federal-funds-for-beach-water-testing.html>.

“Beach Act.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., 2000. Web. <http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/beachrules/act.cfm>.

Drajem, Mark. “House Republicans Propose Cutting EPA Budget, Preventing Rules.” Bloomberg. Business Week, 19 June 2012. Web. <http://www.bloomberg.com/ news/2012-06-19/house-republicans-propose-cutting-epa-budget-preventing-rules.html>.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., 2000. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/beaches/faq.cfm>.

Given, S., et al., “Regional Public Health Cost Estimates of Contaminated Coastal Waters: A Case Study of Gastroenteritis at Southern California Beaches,” Environmental Science and Technology, 40, 2006, p. 4,851.

Scott, Monica. “Proposed Fed Budget Eliminates Beach Water-Quality Grants.” Local Voice. Coastal Point, 2 Mar. 2012. Web. <http://www.coastalpoint.com/content/ proposed_fed_budget_eliminates_beach_waterquality_grants>.

“Testing the Waters.” Natural Resources Defense Council. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/>.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. The Budget For Fiscal Year 2013. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Whitehouse.gov. Web. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/ fy2013/assets/environmental.pdf>.

“U.S. EPA 2013 Budget Cuts Programs, Supports States, Tribes.” Environment News Service RSS. International Daily Newswire, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. <http://ens-newswire.com/

Trouble on the High Seas: Climate Change and Shipping

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , — lecollin @ 3:40 pm

The thought of climate change usually conjures up images of extreme droughts and shrinking polar ice caps. Rarely do we link these images to our daily lives or, more precisely, to our wallets. Climate change will alter weather patterns in unpredictable ways, yet scientists agree that within the next century there will be a sea level rise of up to two meters. While this may seem to only affect those living in coastal areas, that couldn’t be farther from the truth (Becker, 2012). A staggering eighty percent of today’s world trade is carried by sea, departing from one shipping port and arriving at another half a world away (UNCTAD, 2011).

The danger with the expected sea level rise lies in the ports themselves, and the problem is twofold. Many of them currently have outdated infrastructure which simply will be unable to handle the sea level rise. The infrastructure will also be unable to withstand more frequent and more intense tropical storms predicted to batter our coastlines. This past year Stanford sent out 342 surveys to ports around the world to better assess worldwide preparedness for climate change in this key economic sector. They discovered that the vast majority of the ports had never discussed adaptation to climate change once in their staff meetings. Additionally, ports overwhelmingly have unfounded and unrealistic expectations about sea level rise. Less than two-thirds of ports believe that a two-meter sea level rise would be problematic, yet their infrastructure will be incapable of handling such changes (Becker 2012). A collapse of this infrastructure would cripple the port and the economies it serves.

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Along with these coastal ports, many inland ports will be affected by changing weather and rainfall patterns. Decreased rainfall will lower water levels in lakes and rivers that are key shipping routes. From December 2012 to February 2013 there was a total of $7 billion in goods being shipped along the Mississippi River that were at risk due to the extremely low water levels. (Geman, 2013) The decreased water levels in the Mississippi River, St. Lawrence River, and the Great Lakes will greatly affect the transportation of agricultural, petroleum, chemical products, and other bulk goods throughout heavily industrialized areas of North America. Annual transportation costs are expected to increase by 29% as shippers search for new ways to transport their valuable goods. Proposed ideas include dredging waterways to make them deeper, and finding new routes when rivers are simply too shallow to be navigable by large shipping freighters (Millerd, 2005). These actions will do more than just hurt us in our pocketbooks. Dredging waterways and shipping on previously-unused waterways will disturb and threaten ecosystems already made vulnerable due to climate change.

While the risks of climate change to national and international sea trade are clear, the steps to be taken by the shipping ports to address these legitimate concerns are largely absent. Yet, some ports have heeded the warnings of climate scientists and taken some action. The Port of San Diego has led its field by creating a climate plan in response to a study they conducted which predicted a sea level rise of twelve to eighteen inches by 2050. In the plan they outline an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, locate areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise and erosion, and create new infrastructure in these areas to be more resilient to possible future weather changes (Port of San Diego, 2013).

Coastal ports would be wise to learn from those located in the Gulf of Mexico, who experienced firsthand how disastrous these severe tropical storms and high sea levels can be after Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane crippled the Gulf Coast port for many weeks, and the entire U.S. economy felt the impact. Katrina opened the eyes of the ports in the Gulf Coast, and they are now some of the best-equipped shipping ports in the world to deal with these impending changes (Kafalenos, 2008).

The problem we face right now is a lack of preparation and action, despite the wealth of information available. While the Port of San Diego and those along the Gulf of Mexico have begun planning and preparing for these changes, most ports around the world have neglected the data that has been given to them. The few that have taken some steps are only looking 10 years down the line and are not preparing for what could happen in the coming decades (Becker, 2012). It is imperative that these shipping ports around the world begin taking the necessary steps to prepare for the sea level rise that will occur over the next century. If they do not, the global economy will be severely crippled, as the importation and exportation of goods will be destroyed along with the ports themselves.

By Alex Creem and Sydney Fishman

Works Cited

Becker, Austin, et al. “Climate change impacts on international seaports: knowledge, perceptions, and planning efforts among port administrators.” Climatic change 110.1-2 (2012): 5-29.

Geman, Ben. “Obama: Climate change threatens shipping routes.” The Hill, 12 March 2013. http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/287577-obama-climate-fueled-drought-presents-export-risks

Kafalenos, R.S., Leonard, K.J.  “What are the implications of climate change and variability for gulf coast transportation?” In: Savonis, M.J., Burkett, V.R., Potter, J.R. (Eds.), Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure: Gulf Coast Study, Phase I, Report by the US. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, Department of Transportation, Washington, DC (2008).

Millerd, Frank. “The Economic Impact of Climate Change on Canadian Commercial Navigation on the Great Lake.” Canadian Water Resources Journal 30.4 (2005): 269-280.

Port of San Diego. Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Plan. 2013. http://www.portofsandiego.org/climate-mitigation-and-adaptation-plan.html

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). “Climate change impacts on ports and trade: The need to adapt.” 21 September 2011. http://unctad.org/en/pages/newsarchive.aspx?ReferencePageId=6091&Sitemap_x0020_Taxonomy=Climate%20Change

 

 

 

Environmental Risk: Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , , , — lecollin @ 3:35 pm

Introduction

Commonly referred to as the “Bay Delta”, the 1,100 square-mile region lies on the eastern edge of the Bay Area. It gets its name from the merging of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, which originate in the northern and central mountains of California. When these freshwater rivers meet the San Francisco Bay, they form the largest, and one of the most productive estuaries on the west coast, which is home to half a million people and 300 species of wildlife.

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The Problem

The Sacramento-San Joaquin delta has been modified by humans since the mid-1800s, when the Gold Rush sparked a large migration to the area. Those who were unsuccessful at mining tried their hand at farming and found that the soil in this area was rich in organic matter. These farmers built levees to drain the land and built farms that still exist today. But despite large economic gains, their actions destroyed natural habitats and have caused 29 native animal species to become threatened or endangered.

Over the past several decades, the Delta has become the hub of California’s water distribution system. It provides water to over 20 million Californians and supplies one of the largest farming regions in the world, the San Joaquin Valley. Much of the nation’s domestically grown produce comes from water that flows through the Delta, so there is a large economic incentive to divert this water to the Central Valley (Hanson). This diversion is done by pumping stations, which transport freshwater from the rivers into the state and federal water projects. It also changes flow patterns in the channels, which confuses migratory fish. Other factors such as pollution, competition, and predation from nonnative species also add to the environmental risk. It is no surprise that populations of native fish such as the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon are on the decline.

Scientists have determined that the Delta smelt is an indicator species, whose presence or lack thereof demonstrates the quality of an environment. The Delta smelt was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1993 and its population as well as others continues to decline (Healey). The protection of the Delta smelt by the Endangered Species Act has not come without controversy however, with many questioning how preservation of the species justifies reduced water diversion for those who need it.

Drastic changes in the estuary environment can also lead to the extinction of certain plants and animals. Chemical changes can contaminate the freshwater supply and leave large populations without viable drinking water. Fortunately, actions have been taken to remediate this growing problem.

 

Analysis

During the Gold Rush, one of the strategies used to extract gold from the river was through the use of mercury. Some of this mercury was spilled into the waterways and would eventually flow into the Delta. Other sources of pollution include agricultural runoff, where 200 million pounds of pesticides are applied to California farms every year. The EPA (2013) also reported that large oil refineries along the San Francisco Bay “release more than one million pounds of toxic chemicals”. Some of these chemicals are washed into the Delta and have gone unregulated for more than 20 years (Wren). Dredging in the estuary for water transportation also increases the turbidity of surface waters by temporarily suspending bottom sediments.

Climate change also plays a role in this problem because it will change the water inflow. Much of the water that flows into the Delta comes from the melting of the snowpack, so warmer temperatures would lead to less spring runoff (California Department of Water Resources). The lack of water coming into the Delta affects the reservoirs that release water for human use and agricultural use, spelling trouble for many Central Valley farmers.

The projected sea level of the San Francisco Bay is also expected to rise with warmer temperatures. Most of the islands in the Delta are surrounded by levees that are only 10 feet in height and constructed mainly of dirt. During storm events, the influx of water from the Bay may be strong enough to break levees and lead to widespread mixing with saltwater (Hanson). These levees can also break in the event of a major earthquake, which is already overdue in California.

Lastly, invasive species threaten the well-being of those native to the area. When a new species is introduced to an area, it will proliferate with lightning speed because there is no competition that will limit its population growth (The Green Gate). Hundreds of aggressive species have found a home in the Delta ecosystem and they are leaving little room for native plants and animals. This further worsens the problem of the endangered species and presents new challenges for the human population.

Exposure Analysis

Nutrient concentrations are significantly correlated with changes in components of the food web over time (Glibert). The ammonia (NH4+) that is discharged from sewage treatment plants affects phytoplankton assemblages. This is directly related to zooplankton, clam abundance, and ultimately the population of various fish species such as the Delta smelt. Phytoplankton constitutes much of the diet of primary consumers and this effect will be felt across the food web. The figure below depicts this correlation, where higher concentrations of ammonia lead to a decrease in the number of Delta smelts.

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Changes in salinity and temperature also affects the Delta smelts because it needs suitable conditions for its young to grow. We can see from the graphs below that eggs are the most vulnerable to environmental changes due to their low tolerance of high salinity (Glibert). In a warmer world, fewer eggs will be able to survive because temperatures and salinities will be out of their comfort zones. They may not be able to adapt quickly enough to these changes and will likely face extinction. Other plant and fish species face similar threats.

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There are always uncertainties when it comes to predicting how species will respond to changes in habitat quality (Healey). Models try to account for each aspect, but the amount of variables and measurements needed to produce a perfect simulation is near impossible given the large area of the Delta. Instead, researchers tend to gather small sets of data, analyze those results, and apply their findings to the whole population.

Conceptual Model

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Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)

A proposed conservation plan, which would operate over the next 50 years under the Endangered Species Act, intends to both promote local species populations (including the Delta smelt) while simultaneously ensuring the availability of freshwater for decades to come. But a report released by the National Research Council in the spring of 2011 discredited much of what the plan intended, claiming “the independent scientists assembled by the NRC found that the BDCP fell well short of an objective analysis of likely impacts of the Plan,” (National Research Council).

Currently, the BDCP is working to update its plan in light of criticisms it received. A new Environmental Impact Statement has been filed, and documents concerning the project are currently up for public review, available at: baydeltaconservationplan.com

Minh Ngo and Austin Reagan

Works Cited:

Hanson, Charles. “Delta Risk Management Strategy”. Jack R. Benjamin & Associates, Inc. Department of Water Resources. 2006.

California Department of Water Resources. “Progress on Incorporating Climate Change into Management of California’s Water Resources”. July 2006.

National Research Council. “Draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan: National Research Council Review Validates the Bay Institute’s Concerns.” May 2011.

The Green Gate. “Invasive Species”. Natrual Resources Defense Council. 2001. http://www.nrdc.org/greengate/wildlife/invasivef.asp.

Wren, Ian. “EPA Report Details Toxic Discharges from Big Industry”. San Francisco Baykeeper. 29 Jan 2013. http://baykeeper.org/blog/epa-report-details-toxic-discharges-big-industry.

Healey, M.C. et al., “Conceptual Models and Adaptive Management in Ecological Restoration: The CALFED Bay-Delta Environmental Restoration Program”.
Glibert, Patricia. “Long-term changes in nutrient loading and stoichiometry and their relationships with changes in the food web and dominant pelagic fish species in the San Francisco estuary, California”. Fisheries Science Vol. 18, Iss. 2, (2010).

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