Panel discusses the pervasive problem of salinity and irrigated agriculture, and what can be done about it
Salinity is a slow-moving but critical problem. It is most challenging in regions that have constrained drainage; it can be exacerbated when imported water brings salts into the basin; imported food and other raw materials can add to the problem. If salts are not properly managed, it can pose a threat to human health as well as wildlife, and ruin once-productive agricultural lands.
Salinity is a significant challenge in the Central Valley; approximately 4.5 million acres of irrigated cropland, primarily on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley, are affected by saline soils or saline irrigation water. Continued irrigation of these soils will invariably lead to soil salinization unless mitigated by appropriate management. But although the problem is well-known and well-studied, effective and viable solutions remain elusive.
At the California Water Policy Conference, held earlier this year in San Diego, the issue was a subject of a panel discussion with Hal Candee, an attorney with Altshuler Berzon; Daniel Cozad, Executive Director of the Central Valley Salinity Coalition; Debi Ores, staff attorney and legislative advocate with the Community Water Center; and Hope Smythe, Executive Officer at the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board. The panel was moderated by Larry McKenney, Executive Counsel with the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.
Larry McKenney started by setting the stage for the discussion to follow. “Some parts of California are very fortunate and blessed with plentiful, sweet water and great natural drainage,” he said. “There are other areas in the state that rely on imported water, or rely on a combination of imported water and groundwater, and if those areas don’t actively ensure that they have appropriate drainage, or some kind of salt export, it is a certainty that they will eventually face a disaster. It’s not quick moving, but it is inevitable if you don’t address the problem.”
“The challenge of managing salt in regions with constrained drainage is that is it constant, slow moving and critically important,” he continued. “It’s a problem that’s created by the importation of water and the importation of materials that are used in industrial processes, and just the use of water by people, and our natural biological processes. Imported water carries a salt load that can reach significant levels faster than you might think, and the importation of water into an area for irrigation can cause the mobilization of salts that otherwise might stay fixed in soils, so that those salts become an issue for water management as well.”
“Expanded use of recycled water for irrigation can also exacerbate the salt accumulation problem because it keeps salts within the region, rather than letting them drain away, and allows them to accumulate in the soil and groundwater,” Mr. McKenney said. “If the salts are not managed properly, they can pose human health threats, they can poison birds and other wildlife, and they can ruin otherwise productive agricultural land.”
“Though the problem with salt accumulation was identified a long time ago, and it has been the doom of several past civilizations, we still lack effective financially viable management solutions, or at least, I’m going to posit that question and the speakers are going to tell me whether we have good solutions,” he said. “There are some regions in the state, including the Santa Ana Watershed where I work, and the Central Valley, that have been attempting to tackle this problem with varying degrees of success. The panelists are going to talk about their experiences within those two contexts, to talk about what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, and what needs to move forward.”
In the Santa Ana region, the problem was foreseen before they started importing water into the watershed that the imported water was going to create a salt sink problem in the Inland Empire. That resulted in the construction of a regional brine line, but even with that brine line, there are still management challenges and regulatory challenges. In the Central Valley, the problem is a much larger scale, geographically, and probably a more diverse problem, and no physical solution has revealed itself as an obvious apparent solution.
Mr. McKenney then introduced the panel members:
Dan Cozad, General Manager of the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District and Executive Director of the Central Valley Salinity Coalition. As the President of his own consulting firm, Integrated Planning and Management, Inc., Daniel specialized in water and resources planning, and management and integration of multiple stakeholders to produce valuable and multiple benefit projects. He previously was the General Manager of the Santa Ana Water Project Authority.
Hope Smythe joined the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board in the Santa Ana region in 1987, and has led the Planning Section as well as the Storm Water Permitting and Enforcement Division. She was recently appointed Executive Officer of the Board. Hope’s initial work as Chief of Planning at the Regional Board resulted in the adoption of TMDLs for pollutants of concern in the Newport Bay Watershed; they were some of the first TMDLs actually adopted in the state of California.
Hal Candee is a partner in Altshuler Berzon in San Francisco and represents a variety of clients on environmental matters including several national and local conservation organizations working on California water issues. Over the past 30 years, Hal has been involved in numerous efforts involving the agricultural drainage issues on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. For over 20 years, Hal was on the staff of the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he served as Senior Attorney and Co-Director of NRDC’s Western Water Project.
Debi Ores joined the Community Water Center in 2014 as Attorney and Legislative Advocate. Debi provides legal research and advice on water and environmental justice matters with a focus on groundwater, as well as helping with the analysis and tracking of legislation. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from UCLA, and a Juris Doctor Degree from the University of California Davis, School of Law, where she was an officer for the Environmental Law Section, and an Editor on the Environmental Law Journal. Throughout law school, Debi focused on water issues throughout California, and then has pursued this passion through internships with the State Water Resources Control Board, the Delta Stewardship Council, and the Planning and Conservation League.
Larry McKenney began by asking the panel a question. “What is the problem, how big is the problem, and then who’s problem is this, and then what needs to happen and what’s standing in the way of doing that?”
DANIEL COZAD, Executive Director of the Central Valley Salinity Coalition
“What’s the problem with salt?,” began Daniel Cozad. “Salt is very much like food: too little of it, you die. Too much of it, you have real big problems. And somewhere in between is pretty good. But depending on where you are, you have different issues and problems relating to that.”
Mr. Cozad said that when he was at the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, he inherited a lot of really good planning. They recognized early on that they had to deliver water at a specified salt level to Orange County, and they were worried that EPA would come in and help them with that, so they decided that the only way to avoid EPA’s help would be to solve the problem before EPA helped them, he said.
“That is one of the fundamental things that guided my career since then,” he said. “If you have a problem with a federal agency, solve the problem they are out to solve and you will not have much of their help – you get the good part of their help, and not the part that you didn’t want. So it’s on the shoulders of the giants who were attorneys and adjudicated; there were engineers, managers, and chemists who figured out that water quality was really important, and that if we wanted to have peace in the Santa Ana, the only way to do that was to be able to make sure Orange County had enough adequate water of good water quality. They understood that if the water quality was poor, they needed more of it, and you could go to a different session and listen to all the things they’ve done to make sure that the water they have is good.”
[pullquote]“The problem is everybody generates salt, and the biggest problem is who should pay for it, and that should be everybody in an equitable and fair way. “Unfortunately, our regulations are set up so that it’s almost the polar opposite of that. — Daniel Cozad[/pullquote]
The Central Valley is completely different from Orange County on a variety of levels, Mr. Cozad said. “It’s 60,000 square miles. It runs from the Oregon border to the Ventura/L.A. County line. It’s 850 million acre-feet of groundwater and 80% of the irrigated land, some 7 million irrigated acres. It is more than 50% of California’s water supply. The Regional Board has three offices with 250 staff. It’s huge. And the problem is huge.”
“The problem is everybody generates salt, and the biggest problem is who should pay for it, and that should be everybody in an equitable and fair way,” Mr. Cozad continued. “Unfortunately, our regulations are set up so that it’s almost the polar opposite of that. A lot of value goes in one direction, and a lot of the costs go in the other, and if we don’t figure out how to solve those issues, those will be the ones that really affect us.”
When Mr. Cozad left SAWPA, then-Executive Director Steve Hall advised him not to work on Central Valley salinity problems. “’There is no answer to that. So do anything, anything but that,’ Mr. Hall had advised. “Right after that, Pamela Creedon, from the Central Valley Board called me and said, ‘I thought maybe you could help us with our salinity problem.’ And I was foolish enough to say, ‘That sounds like a really impossible problem. I’d love to try that.’ That was 10 years ago, and we just presented our salt and nitrate management plan for the Central Valley to the Board.”
Mr. Cozad noted that they don’t use the word ‘drainage’ anymore. “It’s kind of like flying a Confederate flag,” he said. “I know the term ‘drainage’ is still used, but we don’t use that anymore and the plan long-term for the Central Valley is a regulated brine line that meets the California ocean standards. So my lesson for you is to figure out what the rules are, what you’re opponents are trying to achieve, and then do it, because you have to permit something that follows all the rules.”
“But I would note that in the Santa Ana Region, it’s a largely organized area,” added Moderator Larry McKenney. “When the salt problem was identified as a big problem, the Chino Basin in the Santa Ana Watershed was the largest concentration of dairy cattle in the country, so there was ag there. The brine line was built as a way of moving salt out of the watershed and trying to move towards salt balance. But part of the answer to development in the Santa Ana Watershed has been to remove ag from the watershed.”
“And send it to the Central Valley,” noted Daniel Cozad.
Moderator Larry McKenney then turned to the other speakers from the Central Valley to talk about the problem as they see it.
HAL CANDEE, attorney with Altshuler Berzon
Hal Candee began by mentioning that although he represents clients who have strong interests in this issue, he is here today, speaking in his individual capacity.
“I totally agree that this problem is huge and very challenging, and I commend people like Daniel who have devoted so many hours and years to trying to wrestle with it,” he said. “I started working on the West Side salinity issue in 1984, and I still have some of the files from then, and I think, I bet you they’re still relevant to what’s going on now.”
Mr. Candee then gave a bit of the history of the problem, which dates back to when they created the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, which delivers the most water south of the Delta to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley serving Westlands Water District and others.
“I think everyone assumes this is just a salt issue, and if we just collect it into some kind of a brine line or drainage pipe, if we just collect it and ship it out to a brackish environment like the Delta, that’ll take care of it, and everything will be fine,” he said. “So that what was authorized. We’ll export the water from the Delta down to Westlands and the other districts. They’ll irrigate it, then we’ll collect the drainage from below the surface, put it back in a ditch, we’ll call it the San Luis Drain, and we’ll ship that out to the Delta. And that was what the concept was in the ’60s.”
“By the ’70s, a lot of things changed, including the rise of the environmental movement, and things like the Clean Water Act,” Mr. Candee continued. “And the constituency in the Bay Delta area, those who get their drinking water out of the Delta said, ‘Wait a minute. We know enough about this.’ And so they added a provision to federal law that said, you cannot finish building that facility, that drainage pipe, that brine line, you can’t even pick the final discharge point until you have gotten approval from the state regulators and approval by the USEPA.’ That provision has remained in the law; they have to re-approve it every year, but it’s in there ever since.”[pullquote]“If you want to try to get the elements out, or you want to do reverse osmosis, or whatever, you’re talking about a very expensive process, and a process in many cases hasn’t been proven as successful or effective as they wanted.” — Hal Candee[/pullquote]
“That was interesting foresight because what they had already built half the facility, so they stopped half-way, and they said, ‘Well, we’ve got all this drainage coming out of the West Side. We need to put it somewhere … It’s going to be a water source. Let’s just put evaporation ponds in a wildlife refuge and we’ll call it the Kesterson Reservoir, and we’ll put it right smack in the middle of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.’ And as people who are old enough to remember, after two or three years of discharging, it turns out this was killing everything in sight. In particular, it wasn’t just salt, it had arsenic and chromium and all kinds of things, but the worst thing was selenium, which is a trace element that bioaccumulates.”
“Migratory birds of course were being attracted to this site, because the Central Valley has lost 95% of its wetlands, so when you have a big reservoir, that’s quite appealing,” Mr. Candee said. “The migratory birds were eating the various food sources round there and the selenium was bioaccumulating and the next thing you know, they had deformed beaks, and a lot of deaths. The Reagan Administration came to a very unhappy realization that they appeared to be violating international treaties, the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, state and federal laws on water quality, and proposed that we stop immediately. There was a hearing then, in the 1980s. I’ve never been to a Congressional Hearing where they kept having to find a new site. They finally put it at fairgrounds and there are 1500 people at this Congressional Hearing. It was pretty amazing.”
And people have been studying what to do about that problem ever since. Stacks of studies, interagency studies, studies by the state, the Interior Department, the EPA, and people have tried all kinds of treatment technologies, he said. “There has been a lot of litigation and a lot of Congressional action, but at the end of the day, there is a fundamental challenge that doesn’t necessarily apply to every part of California, or every part of the Central Valley,” Mr. Candee said.
“In terms of the West Side, you are bringing Delta water down, so there’s a salt issue right there; then you’re irrigating these soils that not only have the salt problem, but have these trace elements in them; and then you are draining it out and sending it somewhere,” he continued. “If you want to try to get the elements out, or you want to do reverse osmosis, or whatever, you’re talking about a very expensive process, and a process in many cases hasn’t been proven as successful or effective as they wanted. So there are still a lot of questions, a lot of issues.”
“When Central Valley folks talk about exporting their salt north, the people up north don’t have a very positive reaction to that,” Mr. Candee noted. “The Contra Costa Water District gets its drinking water out of the Delta, and they don’t like the idea of weakening the water quality standards, as it could affect them. So these are tough issues.”
DEBI ORES, Staff Attorney with the Community Water Center
Debi Ores from the Community Water Center spoke next about the human side of the problem, and how salinity and nitrates impact human health and communities. The Community Water Center works with disadvantaged communities; they’ve also been involved with the CV Salts Coalition in working on developing a salt and nitrate management plan.
“Part of the problem that we’ve seen is that salts are not like nitrates in the sense that it’s immediately toxic,” she said. “Nitrates are often come from very similar sources, irrigated agriculture is the main one … both of them have increased costs for drinking water.”
People oftentimes judge the safety of their water on the taste, the smell, and the look, but that’s not necessarily always the best determinant. “Toxic chemicals like nitrates and arsenic don’t smell, don’t taste, and don’t look like anything, but if I’m pouring open tap and filling up a glass of water and it tastes salty, I’m going to have a problem with my water, and I’m going to complain to my water agency. So water agencies have to be treating for this. This leads to higher water rates, rates that people cannot always afford. Or if you have a private well, and you’re wondering, “How can I actually deal with this? My water tastes funny.” You might end up buying bottled water, which is a huge expense.”[pullquote]“There needs to be a better way for those who have contributed to the problem to pay for this … we can’t let the human impacts and people who are just trying to live their lives and drink water be the ones who are paying for this decades and decades of contamination.” –Debi Ores[/pullquote]
“On top of it, in the Central Valley, many of our groundwater basins are very contaminated,” Ms. Ores continued. “We need to be moving forward on actually reaching balance and restoring basins, which are two of the primary goals of the CV Salts Coalition. However, we are concerned about when are we going to actually reach this balance. When are we actually going to reach restoration? We understand that this can be a costly and could be a long process, but it’s something that needs to happen.”
With regard to who pays for it, right now those that are on the water system are paying the higher rates, even though they didn’t contribute to the problem. “There needs to be a better way for those who have contributed to the problem to pay for this,” she said. “There are a lot of sources, I completely understand that, but we can’t let the human impacts and people who are just trying to live their lives and drink water be the ones who are paying for this decades and decades of contamination, and what looks like continued decades of contamination.”
“To be clear, part of the problem is that a lot of us receive water from the large agencies,” said Moderator Larry McKenney. “Treatment is always there, it’s always an issue, it’s always a cost, but there’s a real big difference say where we are here, a few miles from the largest seawater desalination plant in the nation, in Carlsbad, which uses a desalting technology that could also be used in the Central Valley. But whatever the costs of doing that are, you spread it over three million customers. That’s very different from basically a village of farm-workers in the Central Valley where you can have costs that are maybe not as big as that, but significant costs and you’re spreading that cost over 70 customers, and they’re not wealthy. So that’s part of the problem.”
“That can result in water rates being beyond what is federal standards of what affordability is, which is anywhere between one and half, to two and a half percent of your income,” Ms. Ores. “We’re seeing a lot of communities paying upwards to 10% of their income on water.”
HOPE SMYTHE, Executive Officer of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board
Moderator Larry McKenney then turned to Hope Smythe. “We have this problem that’s created by all the things that we do in our modern life, with the water that we import, and the food that we eat, and the way that we farm. It’s the result of things that are done a long time, and trying to figure out how to pay for solutions and make it equitable. So what does the regulatory scheme tell us about handling this pollution?”
“The regulatory scheme says that there are no easy answers,” said Ms. Smythe. “In our region, the Santa Ana region, we have been very fortunate that we do have SAWPA, and SAWPA has had the foresight to get all of the parties together and talk. In the Santa Ana region, that’s been our approach for many, many years. We are very stakeholder driven. If we see a problem, we try to work with the various agencies that may help us to address the problem. It’s more of a collaborative approach rather than, ‘these are the regulations, read the regulations and don’t come to us until you can meet those regulations.’ That has never been our Board’s approach.”[pullquote]“With salt and salt management, the solutions are never easy, but if we don’t work together, we can’t get those programs in place … SAWPA has been very instrumental in working with the various agencies to construct and implement desalters, and to build and manage the brine line. So without those two things, our sole issues would be probably like the Central Valley’s problems.” –Hope Smythe[/pullquote]
“With salt and salt management, the solutions are never easy, but if we don’t work together, we can’t get those programs in place,” she continued. “SAWPA has been very instrumental in working with the various agencies to construct and implement desalters, and to build and manage the brine line. So without those two things, our salt issues would be probably like the Central Valley’s problems.”
Moderator Larry McKenney asked Ms. Smythe what tools they had available to them. “We have the water code, and the water code obviously has very specific requirements as far as beneficial uses of water quality objectives, and all of our groundwater basins in our region have water quality objectives for TDS and nitrates,” she said. “We’ve looked to any proposed discharge, and look and see whether those discharges will meet those groundwater objectives. And if they don’t, then we have to develop some kind of strategy to adjust that.”
Ms. Smythe also noted that there are state policies, such as the anti-degradation policy has to be complied with. “It says that we cannot allow degradation of waters unless it’s of massive benefit to people and it’s safe. So we look at those regulations and policies and ensure that whatever we do can meet those policies and regulations. In the last update that we did to our Basin Plan, which was in 2004, we worked with our water supply and wastewater agencies to develop strategies to ensure that their discharges meet water quality objectives, but that they have options to ask us for less stringent objectives, so they can implement certain plans. So there are provisions in the water code that allow those type of strategies to be evaluated. But it’s a matter of talking to the regulators and talking to the various parties to ensure that those various programs are effective and comply with the law.”
“In the Santa Ana Watershed, we estimate that the water that the Santa Ana Region imports, which is actually about 10% or so of the water in the watershed, is used every year from imports,” said Moderator Larry McKenney. “That water supply being imported brings with it about 600,000 tons a year of salt, dissolved in the imported water that’s being imported. Just as a matter of perspective, that would fill a bumper-to-bumper line of dump trucks from Riverside to Las Vegas. So that’s what’s being brought in every year, and that presents our challenge. In the Central Valley, I’ve read that it’s 7 million tons a year. So that’s the scale of problem.”
“From the ’60s on, the environmental awareness was really focused on preserving what was still good,” said Daniel Cozad. “It wasn’t on fixing things were bad; surface water excepting because surface water is moving and all you have to do is stop screwing it up and it gets better. Groundwater is not at all like that – you have to restore it if you want to get it back. And groundwater has a long memory, and it remembers these things. It’s like your grandfather. It knows that you had salt in it before, and it doesn’t give that up easily.”
“So all of our regulations, Porter Cologne included, are really good at the anti-degradation and maintaining high quality waters. What does maintain mean? That means, keep it good. You got all the tools in the world for that,” said Mr. Cozad. “When the water quality is already bad, all those tools that Hope talked about are the tools that Hope’s region uses. Almost no other region in California has those tools incorporated and are using them in their basin plans. We had to write nine new policies for the Central Valley to incorporate into their basin plan to give them the flexibility to allow dischargers to propose to do something better to restore water quality than they had today. Under existing law, they couldn’t propose and be allowed to do it, or someone would sue them and they either lost in the State Board, or lost in court.”
Mr. Cozad then went into some of the details that are being proposed for the Central Valley. “We have a management zone policy, and the management zone applies particularly to nitrates. Nitrates are not salts, but are a huge problem in the Central Valley for drinking water supplies because there are people drinking nitrate contaminated water. You’ve seen the L.A. Times, lots of the good work by Community Water Center, you know about the problem.”
“The solutions to the problem are many, but one of them for dischargers is the ability to help provide clean water while getting some time to solve the salt problem,” Mr. Cozad continued. “So in a management zone, a group of dischargers and all the people pumping groundwater in the area can address those nitrate problems first, making sure that people get safe drinking water to drink, while they work longer on solving the salt problem. Now you say, why would we give anybody longer? Well, if you don’t give them longer, they have to do it all at the same time, and you just reached the economic tipping point of communities that don’t have a lot of money. They don’t have trillion dollar assessed valuations in the Central Valley. They don’t have incomes that support this, at any of those levels.”
Mr. Cozad said the estimated economic in the Central Valley of not addressing salt were about $1.5 billion to the Central Valley, and $8.7 billion to the rest of the state, because everyone probably eats some of the things that come out of the Central Valley. And 64,000 jobs by 2030 would be lost if the problem isn’t solved.
“Maybe there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that if we don’t solve salt and we fallow a lot of land, that may be a lot of the people that you’re trying to good drinking water to, so maybe it all solves itself,” he said. “But that’s not how we solve problems. That’s how we get into problems, because we do want the Central Valley to be productive and economically viable, and we want to keep farming there, to employ the people who are there, but unlike the past, we want to have good quality water for the people that work there, live in the communities, and in many cases for the farms themselves. So I think the problem we have is that we have lot of ingenuity, and a lot of partnership, but in many places we do not have the tools incorporated in the basin plan that the Santa Ana already does. And we hope within a year or so, the Central Valley will.”
“You use the word dischargers and clearly that’s an important work in the regulatory parlance,” noted Larry McKenney. “Of course, we know dischargers are sewage treatment plants, and industrial processes that run a pipe under the river and they send the pollution into the river. That’s a discharger. But we’re not talking about that here, so who are the dischargers?”
“Farmers are dischargers. They have permits. Well, they have waivers for permits. They are now permitted,” said Mr. Cozad.
“I think where Larry’s going is there has been a sort of an assumption at least in the federal law that farming is different,” added Hal Candee. “Industrial dischargers have a point source, a pipe that goes into a spot, and you can regulate that and apply a permit to it, whereas for farmers, a lot of the runoff is just going in all directions, so not only is there an economic challenge, but the regulatory challenge is how do you regulate it.”
“In the case of the drainage issue on the West Side, it was ironic that they were taking advantage of some of those exemptions under the Clean Water Act, because in fact the drainage was being collected in a pipe and it was actually going someplace, and in fact, these were some of the wealthier farmers,” Mr. Candee continued. “So you have this anomaly where you have this traditional exemption that was there for surface runoff that really didn’t make sense in the drainage context. As it turns out, state law doesn’t have a lot of the exemptions that federal law has, and so Porter Cologne has been much more important, and in fact, the State Board and the Regional Board have been more on the cutting edge of this issue. EPA’s aware of it, but the federal statutes sometimes have a bigger exemption for that reason.”
“In our region, we have an agricultural waiver, and I think maybe the other regions do as well,” said Hope Smythe. “But that agricultural waiver does require salt and nutrient management from the agricultural dischargers. They have to control their TDS and nitrate discharges. If they can’t do that, then they do have the option to participate in some kind of offset program. So, we’ve tried to take a holistic view with regard to salt discharges in our region that affect our groundwater basin. It’s not just the POTWs (Publicly Owned Treatment Works) and the standard dischargers, but we have expanded that to the dairies, the CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) and to the agricultural operators.”
“And don’t think when you hear her say ‘waiver,’ that gets you out of anything,” added Daniel Cozad. “That’s just a technical regulatory word. It means a permit of a different flavor, that’s all.”
[pullquote]Agriculture and CAFOs are non-point sources, so they are harder to manage, and they are harder to monitor, but at the same time, just because something’s difficult, we need to be doing something about it though, because people’s lives and their livelihoods are being threatened. — Debi Ores[/pullquote]
“As Hal pointed out, agriculture and CAFOs are non-point sources, so they are harder to manage, and they are harder to monitor,” said Debbie Ores. “But at the same time, just because something’s difficult, we need to be doing something about it though, because people’s lives and their livelihoods are being threatened. Salts do harm agricultural lands; nitrates make it so your farm-workers are getting sick. And so all these solutions, they’re going to take time, but something that the Environmental Justice community is worried about is that there’s no assurances that at the end of this period of time that we’re going to have sustainable solutions.”
“You can provide replacement water right now, whether that’s bottled water, or tanks or filters, but living on tanked water, bottled water for 10, 20 years is not something that anyone should have to live with,” continued Ms. Ores. “There needs to be assurances that at the end of a period of time, we’re going to have safe water for everyone. With a lot of these regulatory programs, a lot of it is, “We’ll have balance; we’ll have restrictions where reasonable and feasible.” But that often doesn’t include the human impact of what’s reasonable and feasible. So this might cost you a little bit more money as a discharger, but at the same time, having someone have safe drinking water, it’s a little bit of a balance, and we really do have to balance. We can’t end up with all these industries completely out of business because farm-working communities depend on farms and dairies to exist so they have work, but at the same time, they can’t work if they don’t have safe water.”
“I think it is interesting, with the idea of dischargers and the way we think of dischargers and what’s going on here with more of the non-point source issue, and it gets to what the regulatory tools are that we have, and how well they apply to achieve our goals,” said Larry McKenney. “In the Central Valley, you irrigate and the runoff from the irrigation carries stuff with it, and that may or may not be collected in a pipe so you can do something with it. But even when you don’t have runoff, you’re putting water on the ground, and some of it is soaking into the ground, and that’s becoming part of the groundwater issue.”
“In the Santa Ana Region, the issue came to a head because we were importing water and percolating it into the ground,” continued Mr. McKenney. “We want to store water in the ground where there’s no losses to evaporation and you don’t have to destroy a stream to have a surface reservoir. But the regulatory tool that we have is for permitting discharges of waste. So it is irrigating farmland and discharging waste even if it’s percolating imported water into the ground or basin for water supply, a discharge of a waste? Hope, are you ever frustrated with the tools you have, that are a little archaic for what we’re trying to do here?”
“Yes, and it just takes some thought about what needs to be addressed,” replied Hope Smythe. “About 10, 12 years ago, our Executive Officer at the time was very concerned about the imports of salt into our groundwater basin, and thought at one time that he would be interested in taking to our Board for consideration waste discharge requirements for importing water. Of course, that did not go over very well. Again, his point was that it’s not necessarily the imported water that’s subject to waste discharge, but it’s the salt that is in that imported water that is actually a waste. I think if you think about it in those terms, maybe that makes sense. But that’s supposed to be a good water supply, so it’s difficult. It’s very difficult.”
“It’s the balancing of interests and the regulatory regime isn’t always the best tool for balancing interests,” said Moderator Larry McKenney. “But it brings to mind another topic … One of the things that I noted in reading about CV Salts, was that one of the primary policy goals that was articulated when they started the work on CV Salts was equity. So what does that mean at CV Salts? Daniel, you start it and then Debi can tell you where you’re wrong.”
“Actually, I think on this element, we would pretty well agree,” said Daniel Cozad. “The places we disagree are on sort of fine points that are really important and require, as you said, balance. Everybody would like absolute guarantees, and nobody’s going to get them out of the process, but there is a goal in equity. This is what happens when you hire a naïve person who doesn’t live in the area to define what the future ought to look like. But it’s one that actually helped.”
“I was asked to put a workplan together, and equity was one of those that everybody ought to have some stake in it,” Mr. Cozad continued. “We get in a lot of trouble at CV Salts from a number of people for using terms that are imprecise. Equity is one of those. You may not be able to define equity for yourself or for anyone else, but you’re damn good at saying what’s not equity. You know that. You don’t have to ask anyone, “Gee, is this inequitable?” Everybody knows. We have things like reasonable, feasible and practicable. Those are mostly defined by synonyms. And we leave it up to the Regional Board and to the courts to decide when something is unreasonable—if you read regulatory sentences you see that a lot—unreasonable or inequitable.”
“We talked about dischargers – I like to call them permittees,” said Mr. Cozad. “It sounds better than dischargers, ‘evil polluter.’ But in a sense, every one of us is. You may not hold a permit yourself, but wherever your water goes after you use it does hold a permit of some kind that Hope or one of her folks check and make sure it’s working.”
“So when we started out with equity, the idea was to get to a point where all of the people who were gaining benefit by using the Central Valley waters, and all of the people benefiting from products of that, along with the people who were first hand, were all paying out to solve the problem,” said Mr. Cozad, pointing out that the problem extends beyond the Central Valley. “It is absolutely your problem even if you live in San Diego, because you’re drinking water from the Central Valley in San Diego, and the Colorado River. But you are also eating the products and using the materials that are grown there.”
“What we have now is the permittees have a really bad way of recouping that economic value, because they’re commodities, and they’re sold at commodity value,” said Mr. Cozad. “There’s seven million acres of irrigated land in the Central Valley covered by the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, which gives waivers, which requires farmers to do something about what they used to not worry about, which was water left in their root zone. And we spent a year finding what the root zone was, and what the area below the root zone was and where we ought to say it exited farming and became waste. … That’s one of the problems we’re working on trying to solve. Where does that waste go, if it doesn’t go to a pipe and go down to Kesterson … How do you regulate it and how does that work with new sustainable groundwater management? That’s where that management zone offsets waivers, those sorts of tools that give flexibility allow you to figure out ways.”
“At the end of the day, in the Santa Ana region, we love, trust and count on the Regional Board to make sure that there’s equity, fairness, and reasonableness,” said Mr. Cozad. “The assumption in the Central Valley is not that. They have no experience with their Regional Board being fair, reasonable or equitable. Either side. The environmental justice community, they don’t believe the Regional Board will do their job and enforce the permits; they’ve said that. They believe it. The regulating community doesn’t believe they will enforce the permits when they say they will, in the way they say they will, or that the next Regional Board will do it differently, or some third party will sue, and they will end up in the same donnybrook that they’re already in. So there’s no culture of trust and working these things out that exists in the Santa Ana Region. It was truly a rude awakening for somebody to come out of the Santa Ana to the Central Valley. So, we’re trying to develop something that puts all these people into solving the problem.”
Debi Ores then gave the perspective from the disadvantaged communities. “I think for us, equity is making sure that people are all at the same level. One example I think with CV Salts perspective, where we have a little bit of a problem with the equity is that for salt and nitrates, there’s this concept of assimilative capacity, or how much salt and nitrates can be added to the system. The horizontal determination is one issue where you may be within this management zone, you go there for nitrates—because I know those numbers better—water quality is seven so there’s three milligrams of assimilative capacity. And across the entire horizontal area, you have assimilative capacity. But there might be areas of hot spots, so maybe one corner, the nitrate levels are actually 17, and another area they’re three. But the 17 can keep discharging because there’s three milligrams of assimilative capacity.”
“Then there’s the other issue of vertical assimilative capacity, so where are you measuring that?” continued Ms. Ores. “If you’re measuring that at really far depths, beyond where most people have private wells or even domestic wells, deeper is usually cleaner than the shallower areas. Shallower areas are where most people have private wells. So if you’re saying down here, there’s a bunch of assimilative capacity, as you’re discharging, it is hitting those domestic wells first. So it’s really thinking, ‘If my practices might be impacting another person, how can we figure a way that I can still work and function, but also not be harming my neighbor?’”
Ms. Ores then had a comment regarding whether irrigation counts as discharging pollution. “I think it really matters on how you’re doing it,” she said. “Are you adding more contamination to the system, or are you already taking what’s in the system and applying it? In the irrigated lands process, what we’re pushing for is to get a credit if you’re not applying fertilizer, if you’re not applying additional contaminants to the land, and you’re just using the nitrates that are already in your water to fertilize, you’re not adding anything new to the system. So that’d be a situation where irrigation is not contributing, it’s not polluting, it’s really just taking what’s already in the system and applying it to the top.”
Ms. Ores said that regarding trust, they work with the agricultural community on many different aspects. With the Irrigated Lands Program, they work fairly well with a lot of the members of the ag community. “We still don’t always agree on everything, but we are coming to closer acceptance on other areas,” she said. “CV Salts is a bit more of a difficult process … I think it’s still fairly cordial. A lot of the same people in both processes are in the room. So, there’s still a decent level of respect. But respect actually does help. If you’re working together for years and years and years, it helps because then you understand both sides a lot better. You’re still not always going to agree, but at least you understand where people are coming from.”
“It is always our goal to be looking at communities,” Ms. Ores said. “It’s not treating everyone the same, because in that cartoon, if you have a short person like a little kid, and then someone a bit taller, and someone taller and put them all on the same blocks, and there’s a fence, the tall person can see over the fence, but the other people can’t. But when you give people the blocks to get them all to the same level – that’s kind of my take on equity, it is making sure that everyone is not treated the same, but is treated in a way that everyone can achieve the same goals.”
[pullquote]”Remarkably, as a society, over the last 50 years or more, we have come up with a system where we can spend enormous amounts of money moving billions of gallons of pristine Sierra water – absolutely fantastic for drinking water – in government funded canals to almond farmers to grow crops for export and make a lot of money,… but not get very minimal amounts of water to the communities where the farm-workers live who actually farm those fields. It can be done.” — Hal Candee[/pullquote]
Hal Candee agreed that the number one issue is equity and the vulnerable, disadvantaged communities. “It’s not just on the pollution side,” he said. “Remarkably, as a society, over the last 50 years or more, we have come up with a system where we can spend enormous amounts of money moving billions of gallons of pristine Sierra water – absolutely fantastic for drinking water – in government funded canals to almond farmers to grow crops for export and make a lot of money, some of them owned by hedge funds in New York, but not get very minimal amounts of water to the communities where the farm-workers live who actually farm those fields. It can be done. It’s not a physical impossibility that you can actually make some of that water available to those communities. But what we’ve discovered in the drought was those communities got hit hardest, probably because they were dependent on other water sources that were unavailable or polluted water sources.”
“But there is another kind of equity, which tends to get lost in the discussion, but which I think is becoming more of concern, and that is that there’s a regional inequity in the way we’ve set up our whole water system,” Mr. Candee said. “The five counties in the Delta area have some together to create something called the Delta Counties Coalition. The fishing community, both commercial and recreational fishing community, have come together to create something called the Golden Gate Salmon Association. The whole idea here is so many of our water policies shift the water supply south, whether it’s all the way down here to San Diego, or to the Fresno County farming region, or Harris Ranch, or wherever. They get the water exported and the consequences to small fishing operations that depended on a healthy salmon population or communities that they support in Northern California, or the water quality for the local farmers in the Delta counties, they don’t feel like they have gotten a fair shake. They don’t feel like they have been as protected.”
“There’s lots of arguments both ways and we could probably all make those arguments, but I just think that’s another issue that’s out there and it’s been, gotten more interesting in the last many years, as people like Kevin McCarthy from the San Joaquin Valley have become more powerful in Congress, and so there’s this battle going on that has this sort of political context,” said Mr. Candee. “There’s an equity context in the drought that had impacts, particularly for the most vulnerable communities, and so I think Daniel made a good point. A lot of times we inherit the problems at the outset, and trying to remediate and restore things can be even tougher.”
Moderator Larry McKenney asked who is responsible for solving these problems from an agency perspective?
Hope Smythe noted that the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, a joint powers authority formed in 1968 of five large water agencies in the Santa Ana watershed, is a perfect example of an Agency that was formed to address these problems. Larry McKenney asked if it was happening anywhere else?
Hal Candee noted that over time, a lot of interagency groups in the Central Valley have tried to wrestle with these tough issues. He recalled how he was summoned by Senator Feinstein to sit down with the Bush Administration, Westlands Water District, and others, to try and address some of the salinity and drainage issues. They gave one seat for environmentalists, but Mr. Candee lobbied hard and got Gary Bobker from the Bay Institute to attend with him. When they arrived, there were 35 people in the room, and Mr. Candee noted the absence of the US EPA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the USGS, who have been studying the issue for over a decade. It took three meetings to be able to get those federal agencies to the table, Mr. Candee said, and when they finally got them there, a Senator came up and noted the depth of their knowledge on the subject and asked why they hadn’t been there sooner.
“I didn’t think it was such a revolutionary concept to put the applicable federal regulatory agencies at the table,” Mr. Candee noted. “We can’t sometimes even get the right people in the room, and that is doubly true with the communities who don’t have as much power, and it’s also true that there’s a state and federal problem too.”
Daniel Cozad said they have a concept for management zones, which bring dischargers – the people who have to get permits – to things like the Sustainable Groundwater Management Agencies that are forming within the Central Valley. “While none of those answer every problem, they’re beginning to coalesce on the same sorts of issues and problems from the local perspective,” he said. “What we’ve had is the federal government trying to solve problems, and the state government trying to solve problems, and what we’ve had is a lack of recognition by the local entities that they’re their problems to solve. They need help from the state and federal government, but they’re their problems.”
“The difference in the Santa Ana was the five agencies that decided to make a JPA because they had spent a hundred years suing each other, and they understood it was their groundwater,” Mr. Cozad continued. “It was their future water source that their population would need to survive and thrive.”
However, in the Central Valley, the irrigation districts were all about distributing surface water – they didn’t manage groundwater, they didn’t supply groundwater, Mr. Cozad noted. But things are changing, and now irrigation districts are serving urban populations as much as agriculture, he said. “There are successful models like this going on, it’s where an Irrigation District says, ‘You know, I now serve two thirds urban population, and one third agriculture. I guess I should take over and manage how all this works.’ Where that’s going on, at Alta Irrigation District and others, I see really bright hope in a future. And why did Alta do it? Because the Manager’s been there 25 years. He has the stature to stand up and say, ‘We need to lead this direction. We need our Board to support this, and we need to move forward.’”
“We’ve tried to set up a system where that sort of thing can be legally permitted in the regulatory process, and that’s sort of leadership can be shepherded and grow real local work,” Mr. Cozad said. “When you have real locals involved, you will get a good solution. If we provide some consistent funding on the state and federal level to help them along, you will end up with sustainable groundwater, sustainable agriculture, and folks who can work in that business and survive. And that’s what we need to achieve.”
“As a real practical matter, the SAWPA model has been very successful as far as it’s gone, but one of the limitations of the joint powers authority approach is that a joint powers agency can only exercise powers that all of its members have in common,” said Larry McKenney. “Our JPA is five municipal water agencies; we don’t have any land use jurisdiction, and if we brought a county, or a city, or multiple counties, we have three counties into the JPA – even if we did that, the JPA can’t exercise land use jurisdiction because some of the members have it and some don’t. And some of these problems, especially in the Central Valley side of things, seem to stem from land use decisions. So, are the SGMA agencies going to address that? How is that going to be grappled with in the future?”[pullquote]“When you have real locals involved, you will get a good solution. If we provide some consistent funding on the state and federal level to help them along, you will end up with sustainable groundwater, sustainable agriculture, and folks who can work in that business and survive. And that’s what we need to achieve.” –Daniel Cozad[/pullquote]
Debi Ores noted that SGMA reserves land use authority with the counties. “So things like well permitting, which impacts everything we’ve been talking about so far, that’s reserved with the counties. The SGMA agencies can’t really attack situations like well permitting.”
Daniel Cozad pointed out that everybody is loathe to give up their land use authority. The local elected officials are elected to do that, and in a lot of cases, they’ve done a bad job, although it may have seemed like the best job at the time, he said. “They just don’t always have all the information. I find elected officials do a really good job when you give them all the information they need to make a good decision, and you have high transparency and accountability. So putting the dischargers, who are also usually the economic interests in the area—they’re a discharger for a reason, they either collect your wastewater, or they provide jobs and other things in the area—and the people who’re providing the water and have demands, and everybody who cares about the issue – or at least all the important people who are going to have to put up with it, in the same room with the land use officials, and give them that information. I’m hoping that informs it better, because those people are the ones who are going to have to pay for it if they make a bad land use decision.”
Debi Ores said that the disadvantaged communities who are oftentimes impacted have to be at the table and have to be in the room. “It’s that talking can prevent litigation, and if communities are actually there, saying, ‘This is how your land use decision’s going to impact our community. This is how our water source is going to be impacted. This dairy that you’re permitting right next to us is going to cause all these problems.’ Or pesticide or new Ag land and pesticides use – just talking and listening and incorporating concerns can make a huge difference in allowing everyone to work together, and hopefully prevent litigation. And I think that’s sometimes a lot of times why communities feel like they’re not being listened to, because they’re not. They’re not at the table.”
Ms. Ores said that they are observing this in the formation of the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs); communities are not part of the GSA and they are not being listened to. “Something that we’ve gotten a little bit closer to with the management zones of the CV Salts is acknowledging that communities have to be part of those management zones,” she said. “I’d like to see better boundaries, to make sure that gerrymandering doesn’t happen, either intentionally or unintentionally. But having communities actually be part of the management zone decisions and discussion is a great first step, and I think is going to help make informed better decisions.”
Question from the audience: Can you talk a little bit about what some of the actual strategies to address this problem are? Is it fallowing certain land? Is there a treatment? Is it finding places to take the salt and dispose of it? What are the actual solutions that are on the table?
Daniel Cozad said there were a couple of studies that looked at all of those issues with the exception of fallowing. They didn’t look at fallowing as an option because fallowing was the harm they were attempting to avert. “A lot of people think fallowing is an economic answer because it’s cheaper to stop getting a discharge permit than it is to continue to discharge to produce your product. But since we involved the farming community, that was not their number one goal, to go out of business.”
Through studies, they determined that about 15% could be managed by source reduction and farming methods; it’s trying to determine where the 85% that can’t be managed should go. “That 85% has got to go somewhere,” Mr. Cozad pointed out. “So you have to either evaporate off the water and bury the salt somewhere, which is not all that functional, or figure out if there’s a way to get a Central Valley regulated brine line. And so that is the intended home for the other 85%.”
Mr. Cozad said he understands the resistance for those who don’t want to be on the receiving end of Central Valley drainage, but the answer is interesting. “Every wastewater treatment plant that discharges to the ocean – even the ones that take pristine water from the Sierras, use it once and discharge it in the ocean – have to meet the same requirements in the ocean plan,” he said. “It is possible, although not cheap, not easy, nor fast, but it’s possible to treat wastewater in the Central Valley that has high amounts of salt in it and meet the ocean plan. It’s difficult, it’s costly and it will take large infrastructure and probably 50 years to implement, as the one in Santa Ana did. But we can do that and keep agriculture working.”[pullquote]“It is possible, although not cheap, not easy, nor fast, but it’s possible to treat wastewater in the Central Valley that has high amounts of salt in it and meet the ocean plan. It’s difficult, it’s costly and it will take large infrastructure and probably 50 years to implement … ” –Daniel Cozad[/pullquote]
“So that’s where the other 85% goes, and the regulatory structure to do that is to give people the ability to legally comply, by helping to plan and implement that program,” he said. “So, they’re still discharging salts, and we have a provision that says that you can’t make hot spots—that’s a big issue—and in that timeframe, develop this infrastructure and be able to export the salt. The same is true in the management zone approach for nitrates.”
Hal Candee noted that in one of the reports he read on the CV-SALTS program, the timeframe for implementation is 18 to 25 years for some of the projects. The projects require complex EIRs and there are a lot layers of regulation, and Mr. Cozad noted that it took 100 years to create the problem.
Larry McKenney noted that source control is crucial – better irrigation methods, conservation. “It used to be that particularly in the pre-irrigation, you used water to flush out the salts and that was better for your particular crop and your particular farm, but that created more drainage, and so then you had a bigger problem to solve on the other end. So they’re trying to figure out what’s the right way to do it. Other things like salt-tolerant crops, there are some crops that can handle more of it. Recirculating some of that water so that you can use it more than once. So, again, you’re reducing the total amount of discharge to deal with.”
“But interestingly, when you do all those things to reduce the amount of water you use, you actually concentrate the salts,” pointed out Daniel Cozad.
“These are tough choices, some of them are business decisions, some of them are engineering decisions, and some of them are environmental regulatory questions,” said Hal Candee. “But I do want to talk a little bit about the fallowing issue … the same time as Daniel’s team was doing their study, the federal government was ordered by a court to come up with some options, at least for the West Side, where a lot of this land is. They were looking at an area of approximately 350,000 acres of drainage impaired lands that have a salt build-up problem, and the Bush Administration, after years and years of study, concluded that the most economically preferred option and the most environmentally preferred option was the one that had the most fallowing – 306,000 acres, and they just felt politically that was unacceptable.”
“The Secretary of the Interior had to write a letter to the White House to ask for an exemption from the normal rules under NEPA, so that they could select a different alternative,” continued Mr. Candee. “And they selected one with 200,000 acres of land fallowed, so even though it wasn’t an economically as preferred or environmentally preferred, they wanted to go with that. But that alternative is on hold right now because the Bureau of Reclamation and the primary group involved, Westlands Water District, have come up with a strategy that will only retire 100,000 acres. And part of the reason there’s been concern about that proposal, and there’s been a lot of letters from Delta families, and fishermen and others, is that that means you’re keeping the other 200,000 acres in production.”
“But what does that mean?,” said Hal Candee. “A) you’re making the drainage problem worse, you’re adding more salt; B) you have to get water to irrigate it, so that means you’re importing more of the salt problem; and C) where’s that water coming from? Well, the Bay Delta’s a very stressed environment. And you have a second problem. If you keep demanding that much water out of there, then you’ve got a problem with the fisheries and water quality there. And so a lot of people were scratching their heads, saying ‘this doesn’t seem to add up. There’s sort of like a smarter way to do this if you give people money to retire that land.’ And what Westlands has always done, it’s a 600,000 acre district, so they take the water that’s allocated to the bad drainage impaired land, and move the water over to other lands because a lot of the Westlands people don’t get their full allocation in most years.”
“When we’re talking about this balance of economically-preferred options of retiring 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 acres of land, and as you retire less land, you’re keeping other land in production, you’re importing more salt and all that, but isn’t that revenue-generating activity?” asked Larry McKenney. “And does that revenue in any way go to paying for the solutions?”
Hal Candee noted that the solar industry was very interested in this situation because they were running into problems building solar plants in pristine desert areas, but in the Central Valley’s drainage impaired farmland, it has plenty of sunshine and it’s closer to a lot of the distribution. “If you could get into the system, and getting into the system is not uncomplicated, but you could then actually create another revenue source, and in fact, there’s a whole bunch of solar development now in the works.”
The nature of the problem is that the way we generate revenue at every level – local, state, regional, federal – and the way we generate value are often very different, and the cost can be concentrated on the wrong communities, said Daniel Cozad. “Not even into the community that is there, but into communities far away, or maybe states that are far away, or even foreign countries. So figuring out equitable taxation has been the bane, ever since we started charging taxes and will continue to be.”
“If you have all those people that are in the room, trying to figure out how do we harness some of the value of forming electrons rather than things that take water and turn that into other things,” Mr. Cozad said. “We’re going to need some of those electrons to desalt some of that water anyway, so some of that may be a self-fulfilling problem. But having those discussions and having really frank discussions, not just in small groups, but in the legislature as to how this actually gets fixed, is super-important if we’re going to have a real solution that’s sustainable.”
“I know that we did a lot of work in the Santa Ana Region on changing water quality objectives for groundwater,” said Larry McKenney. “We had to go through the whole maximum benefit assessment to deal with the anti-degradation policy. So basically what we did is we relaxed the objectives on water quality in exchange for the agencies investing millions and millions of dollars in desalting, so we could have a trade-off. But, when I read about this issue, one of the hot button topics is how water quality objectives for groundwater are even set, and whether it’s appropriate to refer to drinking water MCLs as a standard that can be translated to groundwater quality objectives. You’re the regulator in the room, and have worked on the planning side especially. So what’s your view on this?”
“My opinion is that we did it right in 2004 when we reset our water quality objectives,” said Hope Smythe. “Just to provide a little background, we’ve had TDS and nitrate objectives in our Basin Plan since 1975 and the first plans. And when we redid the evaluation in 2004, pursuant to the anti-deg policy, we went back to that period to see what the water quality was at that time, since that really was the baseline. So the idea behind incorporating those historical objectives as a baseline, and to which we measured any future quality, is that the best quality for most of the basins was that historical period.”
“I know there’s been discussion among some of our stakeholders that we should really be using MCLs and those are the appropriate objectives, but our intent is to ensure that we are maintaining the highest quality water in our groundwater basins that we can maintain,” said Ms. Smythe. “If that’s a historical policy, that’s what we should be relying on.”
“I remember reading the Basin Plan that in some areas the nitrates is below the MCLs, that I’m hopeful that the Central Valley might adopt one day,” said Debi Ores. “Having areas that the goal is six instead of the MCL.”
“One has to be careful about any relaxation of these standards because of the unintended consequences,” said Hal Candee. “I have personal experience where I spent a year negotiating in good faith with a large group of San Joaquin Valley farmers and irrigation districts, as well as federal agencies. We came up with a very good agreement, and one part of the agreement was that I persuaded 14 environmental and fisherman organizations to agree to a relaxation of certain standards, and wouldn’t you know, and in exchange, we got a lot of positive things, a lot of commitments to do a lot of good things. Walk out, and immediately, there were others in other places—and this had nothing to do with salt or drainage or anything—running in saying, “Well we want that same relaxation.” They weren’t going to offer anything, any of the positives. But you now have a precedent of relaxing a standard and we want it everywhere else. I thought that was a laughable suggestion. You didn’t offer anything, you didn’t give, there’s no quid pro quo. And they’re like, “It doesn’t matter. You did it.” And I think the environmental community is going to be very cautious. That doesn’t mean it should never happen, but I think it is risky.”
“I’d layer onto that, that a big portion of what the exemptions and offsets and all those policies are is to make sure that quid pro quo is there, and that the agreement isn’t some negotiated settlement and then it comes back to the Regional Boards,” said Daniel Cozad. “We have to really instill our belief that the Regional Board is going to enforce those things and make sure there is a benefit, because in some areas, you can’t achieve two goals at the same time. You may have to give a little on both of those goals to get somewhere.”
“We’ve tried to be very transparent and very clear that those commitments are incorporated into our Basin Plan, and so once they’re in the Basin Plan, then we can translate those to specific permit requirements,” said Hope Smythe. “We’ve had to enforce a couple of cases where some commitments had not been met, for those agencies that said, “We’ll do this,” but they have not done it.”
Larry McKenney then gave his closing thoughts. “When I first started working in water, I was working in a law firm and one of my first tasks was to convince clients that they really needed to pay attention to the basin planning process, because it was sort of the forgotten part of the way we do this, and it’s so critically important,” he said. “The underpinnings of all these problems, what in some cases allowed the problems to develop, and what the solutions are going to be. And it’s going to be really interesting in the next couple years to see how this works, because the basin planning process is slow and long, and justifiably, changes are made with a lot of circumspection. It takes a lot to get basin plan minutes approved with the Regional Boards, and in the State Board, and then basin plan minutes have to be approved by USEPA. And who knows what’s going to start happening with that in the next few years. So with that, we are out of time. … “
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