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Report notes 2023 a good year for Valley air quality
Valley air quality
The Central Valley experienced better air quality in 2023 than it did in 2022. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District released its 2023 annual report last month, showing that over the past two decades the Central Valley has made significant strides in improving air quality.

According to Stanislaus County District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa, chairman of the district’s governing board, the district has spent nearly $7 billion over the past two decades — a combination of public and private funds — to spearhead this environmental comeback story.

“This report is incredibly positive news,” said Chiesa. “We’re continually trying to balance the jobs aspect with the public health aspect, which is most important. But if you look to the right or look to the left, you can see mountains, and we can all be proud of that.»

Despite challenges presented by wildfires, recent years have seen a notable increase in the days where the Valley’s air quality meets health standards compared to days when it does not. 2023 marked a record-breaking year, meeting those health standards 90 percent of the time. In 2012, the district met the standard 75 percent of the time and in 2002 just 53 percent of the time.

“Valley residents experienced the highest number of ‘good’ air quality days on record,” district executive director Samir Sheikh said of 2023. “And the entire Valley, including those remaining areas with the most persistent air-quality challenges, is closer than ever to meeting federal health-based air quality standards.”

While this progress has been notable, the Valley’s air quality challenges continue to be profiled at a national level due to impacts from increasingly severe wildfire seasons and other challenges.

The district has also taken steps to reduce exposure to localized sources of particulate matter, such as the dust created during nut harvesting season. In 2017, the district’s governing board established the “Community Level Targeted Strategy,” which led to the development of the first-in-the-nation low-dust-harvester replacement program — replacing nut harvesters throughout the Valley with lower-dust alternatives.

The district also continues to make improvements with respect to ozone concentrations, which are measured in parts per billion. Excluding wildfire impacts, the Valley is on the verge of achieving the eight-hour standard of 84 ppb, while progressing toward the more stringent standards of 75 ppb and 70 ppb. In 2012, the Valley was at just under 100 ppb, and in 2002 it was about 115 ppb.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is a regional public health agency responsible for air quality management in the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley air basin: Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and the Valley air basin portion of Kern. The district works with local, state and federal government agencies, businesses, community-based organizations and Valley residents to reduce emissions to improve air quality.