Kesterson Crisis: Sorting Out the Facts

by S. M. Benson, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, United States,
M. Delamore, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, United States,
S. Hoffman, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Irrigation and Drainage


The United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) began planning and construction activities in the mid-1960's for the San Luis Drain, a master drain to dispose of salt-laden agricultural drainage water from the west side of the San Joaquin valley. The first stage of Kesterson Reservoir, 1283 acres of unlined shallow ponds, was designed as a regulating facility to control drainage water discharges into the Delta. Anticipated environmental impacts of Kesterson operations focused almost exclusively on problems related to seepage and water logging of nearby lands. From 1972 to 1978 high quality water delivered to Kesterson provided wetland habitat for thousands of migratory waterfowl in autumn. By 1981, drainage water provided most of the water to Kesterson and by 1982 elevated levels of selenium were detected in fish at Kesterson. Eventually a series of regulatory proceedings and policy decisions resulted in closure of Kesterson Reservoir by June 1986. This paper discusses the environmental consequences of Kesterson operation and environmental remediation efforts to correct the problems.

Subject Headings: Drainage | Water reclamation | Water discharge | Water quality | Salt water | Water pollution | Environmental issues | Reservoirs | California | United States

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