The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency labeled a 15-year effort by farmers and others to reduce selenium runoff into the San Joaquin River a "success story" in a two-page report posted on the agency's website.

EPA's Region 9 office in San Francisco recently issued its report, "Grassland Bypass Project Reduces Selenium in the San Joaquin Basin."

Carolyn Yale, who works in the Region 9 watershed group, said the "Grasslands Bypass Project (GBP) is a very significant component in controlling discharge to the river."

Selenium is a naturally-occurring element in the soils along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and as farmers converted land into food-production, the selenium was picked up in the irrigation water as it seeped into the soil and then flowed away from the fields as drainage water. Farmers, public water agencies, and numerous State and federal agencies formed the GBP in 1996 to halt selenium from reaching the river.

GBP includes nearly 100,000 acres planted mostly to orchards and some row crops. Farmers have installed micro irrigation systems featuring drip and sprinklers on 60,000 acres in an effort to curtail the amount of drainage water by reducing the amount of water applied to the crops.

"Local water districts have also been active participants in the effort to reduce the drainage reaching the river," explained Dennis Falaschi, manager of the Panoche Drainage District. "These districts have lined canals with concrete or installed underground pipelines for water delivery that has resulted in a reduction of more than 2,000 acre-feet of drainage water."