California’s San Joaquin Valley
Fact: With just north of 4 million people the Valley is comprised of an area covering slightly less than 24,000 square miles. Fact: If an independent state, the Valley would rank among the nation’s poorest and possess the worst air quality. Poor air quality in the region can be attributed to a number of factors: inefficient use of land; a heavy reliance on driving and internal-combustion-engine-powered motor vehicle use on which that driving is based; meteorology (weather) patterns; topography (the land is hemmed in by mountain ranges on all sides but one – the north); as well as by a host of other contributing factors. The Valley has been plagued from time to time, it being in extreme non-attainment for ozone pollution and has struggled to meet even the 1997 federal 8-hour standard set at 84 parts per billion (ppb) of air. The Valley will see some relief coming. A 12-year extension (from 2025) will be granted to allow for compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) newest 8-hour standard of 70 ppb which was adopted Oct. 1st of last year.
As for ground-level ozone, it is damaging to the lungs and is known to trigger asthma attacks.
Moreover, ozone is mostly a warm-weather phenomenon typically present in the Valley between the months of April and November. Its two main precursor elements are the gases oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and hydrocarbons (HC), the latter also known as a reactive organic gas (ROG). The combination of these in the presence of sunlight and heat permit ozone to form. NOx and HC are variously known as “smog-forming emissions.”
California and San Joaquin Valley particulars
According to U.S. Census numbers, area population grew from 1,626,009 in 1970 to 2,742,000 people in 1990, a growth rate of 40.7 percent with an average annual rate of growth during that period of 2.035 percent. Meanwhile the growth rate in California population-wise over this same 20 years was 32.9 percent or an annual average of 1.645 percent. But, more importantly, in 1970 Valley population made up roughly 8.15 percent of the state’s total, whereas in 2015, with California’s population at roughly 38,750,000 and the Valley’s population of better than 4 million, the state’s San Joaquin Valley possesses at least 11.0 percent of the Golden State’s total population, which goes to show that the Valley’s population growth relative to the state’s has been increasing over time. This puts pressure on the Valley to reduce pollution in the face of an expanding population. That has proved to be no easy task.
April 30, 2007, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (air district) introduced its “2007 Ozone Plan.” Meanwhile, in Appendix B, subsection B.2 (Emissions Inventory Tables), two tables of importance: “Table B-3 Summer Average Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) Emissions Inventory, tons per day” and “Table B-4 Summer Average Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), tons per day” – are shown. (These may be referenced here). For each pollution type (smog precursor emissions) 3 distinct sources of these are listed: Stationary, Area-Wide and Mobile.
Referencing year 2005, following are the totals (in tons per day) as it relates to how much was being emitted into the Valley’s air for NOx and VOC, respectively, for the 3 distinct sources:
- Stationary: NOx – 114.5 t/d, VOC – 79.8 t/d
- Area-Wide: NOx – 11.3 t/d, VOC – 140.5 t/d
- Mobile: NOx – 504.2 t/d, VOC – 178.3 t/d
- Total: NOx – 630.0 t/d, VOC – 398.6 t/d
Meanwhile, the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) provided its own “Almanac Emission Projection Data (published in 2006): 2005 Estimated Annual Average Emissions, Statewide” inventory for, not only NOx and ROG, but those as well of TOG (Total Organic Gases), CO (Carbon Monoxide), SOx (Sulfur Oxides) and PM (Particulate Matter) and again for each of the 3 distinct sources, also in tons per day:
- Stationary: NOx – 420.30 t/d, ROG – 472.89 t/d
- Area-Wide: NOx – 111.66 t/d, ROG – 750.46 t/d
- Mobile: NOx – 2687.43 t/d, ROG – 1206.70 t/d
- Total: NOx – 3219.39 t/d, ROG – 2430.05 t/d
So, of the total NOx emitted in state, the Valley’s contribution is 19.5 percent. Furthermore, the Valley’s share of the state’s ROG or VOC emissions is 16.4 percent. This is indeed substantial considering the San Joaquin Valley maintains around 11 percent of the population in California.
NOx in the Valley emitted from Mobile sources is about 80 percent – that’s a huge part. In the state, on the other hand, NOx from Mobile sources compared to NOx from all sources (Stationary, Area-Wide, Mobile) amounts to just about 83.4 percent. What this suggests is that in order for both the Valley and California to comply with EPA’s newest ozone standard by the 2037 deadline, a significant reduction must come from Mobile sources for not just NOx but for ROG and VOC as well.
Just to reiterate, these are numbers from year 2005. The air district in its “2007 Ozone Plan” provided projections of emitted NOx and VOC for 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2023.
For year 2014, following are the projected NOx and VOC totals:
- Stationary: NOx – 109.9 t/d, VOC – 84.3 t/d
- Area-Wide: NOx – 11.0 t/d, VOC – 154.4 t/d
- Mobile: NOx – 337.3 t/d, VOC – 123.0 t/d
- Total: NOx – 458.2 t/d, VOC – 361.7 t/d
(Note: I could not find data on what the actual tons per day totals were for the 2014 year).
Be this as it may, in terms of bringing the Valley into compliance by the 2037 deadline, to suggest that in order for the entire region not to be in violation of the 70 parts per billion 8-hour ozone standard as of that 2037 date, would take the “electrification” of all automated mobility or, if not that, then all automated land-based transport, at least (some person’s and/or persons’ opinion, presumably), in my mind’s eye and in my opinion, it is what it is.
Much more meaningful, to me, anyway, would be to present several sound and proven methods to effectively reduce pollution in the air. The ones offered below are a gross oversimplification, these borrowed from an earlier Air Quality Matters post: “Cutting transportation emissions – Seriously? Action speaks louder than words.” Keep in mind that these relate to the mobile side only, and not the stationary and area-wide sources side.
“The [Texas Transportation Institute] in the [2011 Urban Mobility Report] was quick to note, in 2010:
- Operational treatments and public transportation use cut delay by 327 million hours and 796 million hours, respectively
- Operational treatments and public transportation use saved 131 million and 303 million gallons of fuel, respectively, and
- Operational treatments and public transportation use reduced yearly congestion costs in 2010 dollars by $6.9 billion and $16.8 billion, respectively
“According to TTI, ‘Operational Treatments’ can include:
- Get as much service as possible from what we have
- Add capacity in critical corridors
- Change the usage patterns
- Provide choices
- Diversify the development patterns”
Skipping down some, there is this which addresses, in this case, not only the mobility aspect but that of the area-wide and stationary source issues also.
“Next, from Environment California’s Research & Policy Center in its Getting California on Track: Seven Strategies to Reduce Global Warming Pollution from Transportation report, listed are seven in-state emissions-reductions strategies. They are:
- Limit Emissions from Vehicle Tailpipes
- Limit Emissions from Vehicle Fuels
- Reduce Emissions from Heavy-Duty Trucks
- Promote Alternatives to Single-Passenger Work Trips
- Build High-Speed Rail
- Expand the State’s Transit Systems
- Stop Sprawl and Expand Transit-Oriented Development”
Easier said than done?
What will it take to move these along at a more accelerated rate? Money, of course. But, here’s the real facilitating ideal.
These resolutions, if they are each and every one seen as “investments” – and some can bring a return on investment (ROI) – then they are likely to gain the much needed traction that, for many of these mitigating approaches, has been sorely lacking in the Valley so far. That needs to change – and pronto. A number of policy- and decision-makers would do well to look at the high-speed rail project (already begun in the Valley in Madera and Fresno counties), not just this, but, as well, to look beyond Valley borders at what policy- and decision-makers and communities have done elsewhere, all as evidence to see what works and what does not. Oh, and as for those aforementioned electric vehicles? These mobile devices are definitely part of the prescriptive cure – just not the whole cure, or should I say, the be-all, end all.
Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
This post was last revised on May 24, 2020 @ 6:50 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
– Alan Kandel