Cleanup of Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge could begin in January under a plan approved to dump selenium-contaminated waste water into the San Joaquin River.
The state Central Valley Regional Water Control Board on Friday voted unanimously to permit the discharge of Kesterson pond water into the river as long as the tainted water is diluted with fresh water.
Drainage of the ponds will allow the federal Bureau of Reclamation to remove selenium-contaminated soil and plants and move them to a 45-acre dump on the 5,900-acre Kesterson refuge, north of Los Banos in Merced County.
Officials said the project must win $10 million to $25 million in funding next week and survive threats in Congress to block the river discharge if it is to meet an August cleanup deadline.
Although there was no testimony against the proposal during Friday's hearing, a dozen Northern California lawmakers have claimed that the discharge would make pollution worse in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Kesterson Reservoir, a network of 12 ponds used to collect farm runoff from 1978 to 1985, was ordered closed by the government.