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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Can the U.S. Clean water act succeed as an ecosystem protection law?

  • Author(s): Doremus, H
  • Dan Tarlock, A
  • et al.

The article discusses whether the US clean water act can succeed as an ecosystem protection law. The Bay-Delta story is worth exploring both for its unique attributes and for those it shares with other ecosystem restoration efforts. The Bay-Delta story runs counter to conventional understanding of the history of water pollution control in the US. The Bay-Delta story is also important because it is distinctly Western, different in an important respect from the Eastern experiences that drove the CWA's passage. In the West, water quality standards conflicted with Consumptive water rights in ways that were not clearly anticipated by the framers of the CWA. Salinity presented a more difficult problem, because it was so intimately connected with flows. The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries are subject to large consumptive water rights dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Controlling salt levels in the Bay-Delta estuary is a zero sum game pitting ecosystem protection against the exercise of those rights.

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