California High Speed Rail project aims at building the fastest railway system in the United States of America. California High Speed Rail Authority oversees the construction of this project. Most Californians support this project since it will help them solve the problem of transportation that is prevalent in California. This project will serve cities such as Riverside, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Fresno. It will cost about $ 68 billion dollars to complete the project. Economists have estimated that it will bring several economic benefits to the citizens of California. One of the benefits of this project is that it will create over 100,000 new jobs for the citizens of California (CHSRA 34). In addition, it will help in reducing green house emissions in California since electric trains have few emissions. It will also save California resources that it would have incurred if it decided to construct additional airport facilities for transportation of passengers. However, people have criticized this project due to several reasons. Financial analysts argue that this project will cost more than it was initially estimated that were given to Californian voters. In 2011, the High Speed Rail Authority estimated that the total construction cost of the project would be approximately $ 98 billion. However, this authority lowered the costs to $68.4 billion dollars in 2012.
This project has been facing heavy criticism from environmental groups. The railroad that is planned to be built in this project will pass near schools. The noise from the station might disrupt normal learning activities of students. In addition, the project will produce a lot of dust during its construction. Dust will pollute the environment by clogging leaves of crops in this area. A group of farmers in Central Valley has also brought forward a legal suit accusing the High Speed Rail Authority of not complying with Californian laws while conducting environmental reviews of this project. They want to stop the authority from constructing the 65-mile section of this project that starts from Merced and ends in Fresno. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) can be used to investigate how this project can affect the environment adversely. This act stresses the importance of all local and state agencies considering the relevance of environment protection during their decision making process. It mainly regulates the disposal of hazardous materials, greenhouse emissions, and the use of agricultural resources. This essay focuses on the evaluation of Californian High Speed Railway Project using California Environmental Quality Act.
High Speed Train Emissions
Construction of High Speed Railway project will produce several harmful emissions. One of these emissions that might be produced during the construction are greenhouse emissions. During construction, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase. This will increase chances of acid rain and global warming. However, environmentalists argue that greenhouse emissions will be offset by the reduction of these gases when trains start operating after completion of the project (CHSRA 20). Another emission that will be produced during the construction of the project is asbestos and lead-based paint. These emissions might contaminate the buildings that are adjacent to the construction area. Airborne asbestos is dangerous to human health. If the structures of California High Speed Railway project that contain asbestos collapse, there is a high possibility that they will release airborne asbestos to the environment. This will make citizens around California exposed to the risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelimia. Concrete batch plant is another source of emission of this project. According to environmental agencies in California, concrete batch plants generate about 36 tons of emissions each year (CHSRA 21). The main source of these emissions are elevated alignments and the at grade sites.
This project will also cause dust emissions to increase in California. Dust will mainly originate from constructions of substations, parking lots, dredging of sites, and leveling of land. In addition, the lorries leaving construction sites might not be covered adequately releasing dust into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the concrete under construction may break releasing dust to the atmosphere. Earthmoving activities may also produce a substantial amount of dust emissions. Health of children in schools around construction sites may be negatively affected when they inhale this dust. Two schools are located 1400 feet from Bakersfield Station. Students in these two schools face the risk of developing cancer due to exposure to dust (CHSRA 28). In addition, they face the risk of developing lung complications. Dust produced by this project can be reduced in several ways. Water sprinklers and sprays should be used to suppress any dust that may be coming from construction sites. In addition, the engineers should consider washing the wheels of the vehicles that are used at construction sites. Another alternative is surrounding construction sites with solid fences.
Dust will have several negative effects on agriculture in California. Botanists argue that dust blocks and destroys stomata of leaves. This will lead to a reduction of crop yields. In addition, dust may cause abrasion of the surface of leaves. It will negatively affect normal growth of leaves. Dust also destroys the cuticle of leaves. It may cause leaves of plants to wither away and die. Livestock may not have adequate feed due to this. This will in turn lower its milk production. Dust may also cause both physical and chemical properties of the soil to change. Studies have also revealed that cement may cause an increase in the growth of weeds. It will reduce the output of crop farming in California. In addition, dust may affect drainage properties of soil (CHSRA 17). This will cause a particular type of soil to hold more water than the crops require for their growth. Reduction of crop yield will result because of this. Dust from cement may also cause crops in Californian farms to develop chlorosis. Cement contains toxic alkaline contents that may cause the leaves of crops to die. Since dust coats the surface of leaves, the normal action of pesticides sprayed on leaf foliage may be affected.
Conversion of Agricultural Land to Non-Agricultural Uses
California High Speed Railway Project has led to the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses. California values agriculture. It exports some of its agricultural produce to the neighboring states. Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program identifies agricultural lands in this state. According to this program, agricultural lands can be split into prime farmlands, farmland of statewide importance, unique farmland, and farmland of local importance. Unique farmlands produce the largest number of crops in California (CHSRA 18). They contain lower quality soils compared to prime farmlands. Crops under irrigation include vineyards and other orchards. This project requires severing land parcels. However, severing of parcels might cause loss of important farmland defined under the California Environmental Quality Act. The severed land parcels might not be near irrigation schemes, and this may make them to be cut off from sources of water for irrigation. It shows that farming in these areas may fail. This project will also increase transport efficiency in both Fresno and Bakerfield. It means that rapid urbanization will develop in these two regions. Development of residential areas will require conversion of some of the agricultural areas in this region to non-agricultural uses.
California High Speed Railway project will also require construction of substations. Substations will be constructed in Bakersfield, Fresno, and Kings/Tulare. Environmentalists have revealed that construction of these substations will lead to the conversion of about 3,102 acres of important farmland to non-agricultural use. Hanford West Bypass 2 Alternative will also affect agricultural farmland in California. About 364 acres of prime farmland will be used in the construction of this project. In addition, about 153 acres of unique farmland that is used for food production in California will be utilized during the construction of this project (CHSRA 33). Corcoran Elevated Alternative will result to the conversion of about106 acres of agricultural land. Conversion of the above agricultural lands due to the construction of the California High Speed Railway projects proves that the area allocated for agricultural use in California will reduce. Prime farmlands in California have good physical and chemical characteristics to support the growth of commercial crops. In addition, soils in these areas have good moisture supply that will help in ensuring that farmers in California produce good yields. By using prime farmlands to construct California High Speed Railway project, California will lose the advantage of quality farm produce.
Water Resources Impacts
California has many water sources. Water comes from rivers such as Kings River, Tule River, County Line Creek, and Deer Creek. Other sources of water in California include Kern Delta Water District, Fresno Irrigation District, Kings County Water District, City of Wasco Public Works, and City of Corcoran Public Works. Water is used to irrigate farmlands and for industrial and domestic use. Construction of the California High Speed Railway project will have several impacts on water resources in California. It may cause pollution of surface water in this area. Track bed construction activities and bridge construction activities may contaminate surface waters with sediments. In addition, oil and grease used during construction may float on the surface water therefore disrupting the flow of oxygen in this water (CHSRA 32). Excavation will be necessary in the construction of below-grade and at-grade sections of the railroad section of this project. Engineers will also be required to level ground surface in order to construct the rail road project. It will cause the ground water to be polluted by chemicals that may be used during ground leveling. In addition, the ground water will be exposed to settable materials thus contaminating the drinking water. Construction of bridges and other structures will also change the channel of water flow. Some of the projects that will disrupt local water channels include Hanford Bypass 1, Allensworth Bypass, and Corcoran Elevated. Storm water runoff will also be affected by construction of these projects. It will lead to a rise in impervious surface.
Ground water will also be affected by the construction of High Speed Railway project in California. Slab track bed will be constructed on at-grade track. These structures are impermeable, and thus water will not be able to leak through them. Environmentalists have also warned that operations of the project will significantly affect the quality of water supply in California. Runoff from parking lots may cause a change in water color. In addition, wastes from parking areas may also contaminate drinking water with harmful bacteria (CHSRA 42). This may cause spread of waterborne diseases among people consuming this water. Salinity of water will also be affected by the construction projects. This is because runoff water from construction sites may contain too much salts, and this may lead to contamination of water reservoirs. Heavy maintenance facilities that will be constructed at the California High Speed Railway project can also have negative impacts on water resources available in California. Environmentalists have warned that all heavy maintenance facility sites will create about 65 acres impervious area surface. It will increase the storage track area to about 90 acres making the ground surface to be compact. Since the impervious surface will increase, storm water run-off will increase significantly. Chances of channel erosion and flooding may increase because of this.
Electromagnetic Field Impacts on Humans and Animals
The High Speed Railway project in California will cause an increase in electromagnetic fields in the state. Construction of railway projects will require the use of heavy equipment, tracks, and other machinery that generate high electromagnetic fields. Engineers and other construction crews will also use mobile phones and radios while communicating during the construction project. It will increase electromagnetic fields in California. After the project is complete and the railway starts functioning, levels of electromagnetic fields in this state will also increase. Researchers have established that operation of this project will lead to generation of 60-Hz magnetic and electric fields in the regions adjacent to passing trains (CHSRA 18). However, the levels of these fields would have less than significant impact on people around since trains will be operating at low acceleration speeds.
Electromagnetic fields from the California railway project will impact people around this region in several ways. First, it may cause health complications among people who have medical devices implanted in them. According to research conducted by medical practitioners, magnetic fields that range between 1,000 and 12,000 mG may interfere with the normal working of medical devices implanted in the bodies of patients. The levels of electromagnetic fields are most likely to increase in the traction facilities of the railway projects. It, therefore, shows that workers who maintain these facilities may be affected negatively by these fields. Bakersfield substation will also have generators producing the power required by electric trains. These generators are likely to create electromagnetic fields that might affect people with electronic devices implanted in their bodies (CHSRA 22). Electromagnetic levels released from train stations may also affect communication of human beings living around the schools. Radio system will be used for the communication, data transfer, and control of all activities after railway project in California is completed. The frequencies released by the stations of this project may affect communication of people in the nearby schools since some lectures utilize radio frequencies in their public address systems.
Electromagnetic fields may also affect animals, especially livestock and poultry. According to researchers, normal production of prolactin in livestock may change if they are affected by electromagnetic waves. In addition, high electromagnetic waves may also cause milk production of livestock to reduce. In some instances, the livestock may produce unhealthy offspring. The milk fat content of cows may also increase due to the electromagnetic waves. Students from McGill University conducted a study on whether electromagnetic fields that were released by the train stations of the California High Speed Railway project affected the livestock reared in the areas adjacent to this project (CHSRA 22). Their study aimed to answer a question whether these fields affected the dry matter intake of cows, melatonin levels, and their reproductive outcomes. From their study, it was clear that electromagnetic waves did not cause significant effects on the variables under study. Studies have also revealed that if broilers are exposed to electromagnetic waves, there is a high chance that they will fight parasitic infections such as coccidiosis.
Impacts of Special Status Species and their Habitats
Construction of the California High Speed Railway project has also impacted special status species and their habitats. Special status species refers to any species that the scientific community considers rare or that should be put under protection. This is mainly because such species are endangered and, therefore, there is a need to protect them. According to the California Native Plant Protection Act, rare animals are all animals that are considered to be threatened. In California, species of special status are protected in Allensworth Ecological Reserve. This reserve is located in Tulare basin. It mainly conserves threatened species such as the endangered San Joaquin kit fox. The railway project in California will make use of about 7.3 acres of land (CHSRA 35). Project managers of California High Speed Railway project propose to construct SR 43 that will serve as a barrier that will protect construction activities from affecting normal activities in the Allensworth Ecological Reserve. Due to this, construction projects will not cause many noise or visual changes. Another habitat for special species is the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. This park contains some of the endangered wildlife animals and trees. It has many historic structures that tourists like to visit whenever they spend their holidays in California. Construction activities of the railway project will be about 1,500 feet from the park. However, this distance is not sufficient enough to prevent noise activities from affecting the species and people visiting the park.
Pixley National Wildlife Refuge is also another habitat for special species. This refuge has good grassland habitat located in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. In addition it has seasonal marsh wetlands that provide good habitat for threatened species such as Tipton kangaroo rat, San Joaquin kit fox, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. Pixley National Wildlife Refuge also has a wide variety of birds. Examples of such birds include horned lark, sparrow, cranes, mallards, and American Wigeons. BNSF alternative project of California High Speed Railway project will require construction activities within 195 feet near the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge Lands (CHSRA 44). Engineers have proposed construction of SR 43 to separate construction activities from the park. This is in an attempt of preventing the noise from construction activities from affecting the habitat of special species. According to NEPA, construction of this project will have negligible intensity of Pixley National Wildlife Refuge lands. CEQA has stated that the construction activities of the railway project will cause less than significant impacts. Another park that takes care of special species is Father Wyatt Park. Construction activities will take place about 300 feet around this area. The impact of noise from the construction site would disrupt normal activities taking place in this park.
To conclude, the environmental impact of the California High Speed Rail project can be evaluated using California Environmental Quality Act. This act defines the amount of emissions that can be released in any project. The rail project will increase green house emissions. However, it will cause a reduction in green house emissions after its completion. Construction sites will also increase dust emissions in the atmosphere. Dust will affect agricultural activities in California since it may affect respiration and photosynthesis of crops. It will also lead to conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural land. Some of the prime farmlands in California will be used for construction of substations for the railway project in California. This will cause a reduction in food production in California. Natural water resources from California will also be affected by the construction of this project. Some rivers will be redirected to facilitate construction of bridges. In addition, the sediments from construction sites may end up contaminating ground water. Electromagnetic fields will also increase because of heavy machinery and generators producing electricity to drive electric trains. These fields may affect people who have medical devices implanted in their bodies. Some of the habitats of special status species will also be affected by the noise coming from construction sites of this project.