CALFED Bay-Delta Program heading
  • Governor Brown
  • John Laird, Resources Secretary
  • Joe Grindstaff, CALFED Director

Water Quality

The CALFED Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration programs aim to improve Delta water quality for all uses: in-Delta, Delta-related, drinking water, environmental and agricultural uses. The Water Quality Program focuses on the use of the Delta water for drinking and, to some degree, for agricultural use. The Ecosystem Restoration Program focuses on the water quality needs of Delta species. Through regulatory programs and implementation grants, these programs seek to improve water quality in the Delta by reducing sources of contaminants, improving flows and conveyance, and demonstrating drinking water treatment technologies.

What are the goals of the Water Quality Program?

The CALFED Program’s Water Quality Program is the continuous improvement of Delta water quality for all uses and to advance efforts to provide safe, reliable and affordable drinking water to millions of Californians who rely on waters from the Delta watershed through cost-effective continuous improvement of source water, water management and treatment. To that end, the Water Quality Program invests in projects to improve water quality from source to tap to benefit more than 25 million Californians who obtain at least some of their water from the Delta. The Ecosystem Restoration Program invests in projects to improve water quality within the Delta. The two programs cover many constituents of concern, including mercury, selenium, dissolved oxygen, pesticides, toxicity of unknown origin, organic carbon, bromide and nutrients.

History of the Water Quality Program.

The Water Quality Program emerged with the beginning of CALFED in 2000. It stems from historical conflicts over water in California and the struggle to optimize water supply while minimizing impacts to fish and water quality within the Delta. The CALFED Water Quality Program is meant to coordinate the many agency roles and responsibilities for Delta water quality. In California, source water quality has been regulated by the State Water Resources Control Board and its nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards through controls on discharges and water rights. Both treated drinking water quality and source water quality are regulated to protect many beneficial uses, including household, fish, agricultural, municipal and recreational.Treated drinking water is regulated by the California Department of Public Health. The California Department of Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulate impacts on fish and formulate plans to recovery endangered and threatened species. The California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operate large water supply projects that deliver Delta water to its agricultural, municipal and industrial uses throughout California. The U.S. Geological Survey monitors, assesses and researches water flow and quality throughout the Delta watershed.

The Water Quality Program focuses on drinking water quality, and has invested in projects supporting the seven major elements identified in the CALFED Record of Decision to address priority drinking water constituents of concern. It assessed the progress of these projects in its 2005 Water Quality Program Initial Assessment Report. Support of actions to reduce salinity in the Delta also benefits agricultural uses.
Environmental water quality objectives for the Ecosystem Restoration Program are described in the Strategic Plan for Ecosystem Restoration.  Goal six of the Strategic Plan is to "Improve and/or maintain water and sediment quality conditions that fully support healthy and diverse aquatic ecosystems in the Bay-Delta estuary and watershed; and eliminate, to the extent possible, toxic impacts to aquatic organisms, wildlife and people." 

There are three objectives that support this goal which pertain to reduced loadings and concentrations of toxic contaminants, reduced loadings of oxygen-depleting substances from human activities, and reduced fine sediment loadings from human activities into rivers and streams to levels that do not cause adverse ecological effects.   

How does the Water Quality Program affect residents, industry and the environment?

Water quality affects the health of residents and the environment and the efficiency of industrial processes. Industrial processes are most affected by the salinity of its water supply, which also affects our ability to recycle and reuse our water supplies. Residents across California drink treated Delta water, which has above-national averages of organic carbon and bromide and is therefore more expensive to meet treated water regulations. Residents around the Delta also consume fish from the Delta, which can have higher levels of metals like mercury and selenium. The health of the Delta environment is directly related to its water quality, which is currently listed as failing to meet objectives for many constituents. The CALFED Water Quality Program's objective is meant to maintain and improve water quality for beneficial uses over 30 years.

What progress has been made in meeting Water Quality Program objectives?

Progress toward the CALFED Water Quality Program objective has been assessed by both the Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration programs.
The Water Quality Program assessed the progress of individual projects in its 2005 CALFED Water Quality Program Assessment Report and the progress of the overall program in its 2007 CALFED Water Quality Program End of Stage 1 Final Assessment. Individual agencies also assess aspects of water quality on a regular basis. Funding for the Water Quality Program has been far below Stage 1 projections, and current water quality in the Delta cannot meet anticipated future treated water regulations without additional investments.

The Ecosystem Restoration Program assesses program progress through its periodic milestone assessments and annual compliance reports. The current assessment of Stage 1 Implementation is slated for completion by December 31, 2007.

The CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Group’s Performance Tracking Subcommittee also produced an evaluation of CALFED’s Water Quality Program Performance.

What benefits have been achieved for the CALFED Water Quality Program?

The Water Quality Program is seeking to keep the Delta as a drinking water source far into the future, when treated water regulations grow more stringent to protect public health, and at a time when Delta water quality is threatened by increased growth, climate change and changes to improve other beneficial uses. To date, investments have been made to develop best management practices and source controls in the Delta watershed and along water conveyances; to develop potential regulations in the Delta; and to investigate treatment technologies.

The Ecosystem Restoration Program has funded the development of a mercury strategy, and the implementation of a project to increase dissolved oxygen in the Stockton Deepwater Ship Channel. The State Water Resources Control Board and Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Boards have approved three regulatory programs to reduce constituents of concern, which are at different stages of implementation. Several additional regulatory programs are in the process of being developed.

What has been spent to date on the Water Quality Program and how has this been funded?

CALFED agencies proposed investing approximately $950 million during Stage 1 in water quality programs. Of this investment, more than $500 million was planned to come from state and federal sources and the remainder from local sources. Actual spending during Stage 1 has been approximately $125 million. Details of Water Quality Program expenditures are available in the Program Performance Projects by Objective section of this website.

What state and federal agencies are responsible for the Water Quality Program?

Water Quality Program implementing agencies are the California Department of Public Health, the State Water Resources Control Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards.

Ecosystem Restoration Program implementing agencies are the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

What are the most notable success stories of the Water Quality Program since its inception?

Most notable successes of the Water Quality Program include the completion of essentially all CALFED Record of Decision commitments on supporting demonstration projects and evaluation of opportunities for full-scale implementation of water treatment technology through five treatment technology demonstration projects. The Water Quality Program also completed the Record of Decision commitment to address agricultural drainage issues near Contra Costa Water District’s Old River and Rock Slough Intakes, as well as funding actions to assess and address North Bay Aqueduct intake water quality.

Most notable water quality success of the Ecosystem Restoration Program include development and now implementation of the Mercury Strategy, addressing dissolved oxygen deficiencies in the San Joaquin River and at the Port of Stockton, and projects dealing legacy contaminants.

Who is the contact person for this program objective?

Sam Harader
CALFED Water Quality Program Manager
State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Rights
1001 I Street, 14th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 341-5801

Carolyn Yale
Environmental Protection Specialist
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
75 Hawthorne Street (wtr-3)
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 972-3482