EPA's Yale pointed to the farmers and water districts as "really valuable players. Forming the regional drainage entity was a crucial element of the program by having farmers and districts working together. We don't want to lose that organizational effort and would like to see more collaborative efforts of that kind."

A reuse component of the Grassland Bypass Project has diverted drainage water to pasture fields and has proven so successful that more than 6,000 acres today are receiving the water. Most of the land is planted to forage grasses that can tolerate higher salt levels in the irrigation water.

The selenium issue surfaced in the 1980s when drainage water from farm fields in other areas of the Grasslands Basin emptied into the Kesterson National Wildlife and Refuge Area.

"It is important to realize that the drains delivering the water to Kesterson were closed at that time," recalled Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. "Drainage from the farm land that is included in today's Grasslands Bypass Project was never involved in the issue surrounding Kesterson."

The current reduction of drainage discharge to the San Joaquin River has lowered selenium concentrations to levels below river water quality objectives, according to Falaschi.

Between 1998 and 2009, the EPA report acknowledged that "more than 22,300 pounds of selenium and 80,735 acre-feet of drainage" have been prevented from reaching the river. Selenium discharge into the river during this time dropped by 87 percent with salt reduced by 72 percent and 64 percent for boron.

The load reduction resulted "in the de-listing of Salt Slough (10 miles) in 2008 and three segments of the SJR (totaling 40.4 miles) in 2010," according to the EPA report.

"Our final goal is to eliminate all drainage from the Grasslands Drainage Area from reaching the San Joaquin River," concluded Falaschi.