NEWS WORTH NOTING: State Water Board issues draft Ag Water Quality Order for E. San Joaquin River watershed; U.S. EPA awards $5.2M to protect and restore SF Bay; New rainwater and recycling legislation advances California water security

State Water Board Issues Draft Agricultural Water Quality Order for Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed

From the State Water Resources Control Board:

The State Water Resources Control Board today issued a draft order to revise agricultural waste discharge requirements for growers in the eastern San Joaquin Valley, an action that also would serve as a model for protecting water quality in agricultural areas throughout the state.

The draft order would protect communities that rely on groundwater for their drinking water sources from nitrate contamination, a widespread problem that poses serious public health risks. It also would protect water quality from a host of other chemicals from fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that can get into surface water and groundwater from agricultural waste.

The State Water Board is inviting public comment on the draft order through December 15, and will hold a public workshop on December 6. The board is expected to consider the order for adoption in January 2018.

The draft order, if adopted by the State Water Board, would revise waste discharge requirements for the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed issued by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2012. The watershed comprises an area of about one million acres of irrigated agriculture in the eastern San Joaquin Valley.

The draft order modifies an earlier draft issued in February 2016, after taking into consideration public comment and changing several aspects of the original draft.  In particular, the new draft order no longer requires submission of farm data to the Central Valley Water Board identifying growers by name and field location.

While the new draft order retains many of the provisions in the Central Valley Water Board’s 2012 waste discharge requirements, such as relying in part on coalitions of farm interests to work together to comply with the requirements, it makes several significant revisions, including:

  • Revising the way nitrogen application is recorded, analyzed and reported.
  • Starting in 2019, requiring the reporting of nitrogen application data and management practices to the Central Valley Water Board on a field-by-field basis.  Reporting the field level data to the Board would allow analysis of whether the regulatory program is effective in protecting water quality.
  • Unlike in the February 2016 draft order, however, this field level data will be reported to the Central Valley Water Board without the grower’s name or field location, in order to provide a level of anonymity for the growers.
  • Starting in 2019, requiring growers to monitor and report nitrate levels in on-farm drinking water supply wells, if growers are not already required to do so by law.
  • Starting in 2020, imposing the same nitrogen reporting requirements in areas considered low vulnerability for impacts to groundwater as required for areas considered high vulnerability for impacts to groundwater, with some exceptions.

Some of the draft order’s revisions are in response to petitions filed by environmental and community organizations seeking review of the Central Valley Water Board’s waste discharge requirements. In addition, some of the revisions incorporate recommendations from a nitrogen tracking task force and an agricultural expert panel convened as a result of legislation (Chapter 1 of the Second Extraordinary Session of 2008 (SBX2 1, Perata)).  The task force and expert panel reports and recommendations are here.

Program Background

California’s agricultural industry produces over 400 commodities at more than 75,000 farms and ranches and is a significant part of the state’s economy. Agriculture is especially significant within the Central Valley, where it represents more than seven million acres of irrigated lands, of which approximately one million are in the Eastern San Joaquin Watershed.

Addressing water quality impacts associated with agriculture poses a complex challenge. The same activities that are essential to producing a crucial, reliable food supply, such as pesticides used to control pests, nitrogen to fertilize crops, and irrigation to water crops, also underlie many of the critical impacts. Further, many of the impacts from agriculture are due to historic rather than existing practices.

The water quality impacts from agriculture include toxicity in surface water that threatens aquatic species, and salts and nitrates in groundwater that adversely affect the quality of groundwater for irrigation, municipal, and other uses.  An especially significant public health issue, particularly for pregnant women and infants, is drinking water from wells with high levels of nitrates.

The State Water Board and regional water boards have been working with growers and other interested parties to address the environmental and public health impacts from agriculture, while at the same time ensuring the continued economic viability of agriculture in California. The Central Valley Water Board began regulating agricultural discharges to surface water in 1982 with limited conditions focused on preventing toxicity or excess sediment discharge. In 2003, in response to revisions to legal requirements, the 1982 permit was re-examined and the regulatory strategy was modified to include surface water monitoring to determine if and where irrigated lands might be contributing to water quality problems.

The 2003 changes also allowed growers to form discharger coalitions, with a third-party representative responsible for grower outreach and education and implementation of program requirements. In 2006, the Central Valley Water Board modified the permit again to require management plans where water quality problems had been identified.

In 2011, the Board certified an environmental impact report for a long-term irrigated lands program that would address both surface water and groundwater quality protection and proceeded to issue several watershed- or commodity-specific permits. The Eastern San Joaquin Agricultural General Waste Discharge Requirements were the first of the long-term irrigated lands program permits issued and have been in effect since 2012.

The State Water Board encourages interested parties to comment on the draft order. The draft order shows in redline/strike-through format revisions made to the first draft order released in February 2016.  The draft orders are available here.

The draft order further shows in Appendix A in redline/strike-through format revisions proposed to be made to the 2012 Eastern San Joaquin Agricultural General Waste Discharge Requirements.

The State Water Board is accepting written public comment through December 15, 2017, and is scheduled to hold a workshop on December 6, 2017, to hear oral comment. Details on the written comment period and the scheduled public workshop are available here.

Please see the Frequently Asked Questions document on the draft order.

U.S. EPA awards $5.2 million to protect and restore San Francisco Bay

From the US EPA:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded about $5.2 million for water protection and restoration projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“A healthy San Francisco Bay is vital to the environmental and economic health of the region,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “EPA is succeeding in our mission to protect and restore habitats and water quality by supporting local partners and projects.”

San Francisco Bay is a designated “estuary of national significance” under the Clean Water Act. The bay and its tributary streams, situated in an urban area with more than seven million people, provide crucial fish and wildlife habitat at the heart of the larger Bay-Delta Estuary. The bay’s users and nearby residents are all affected by threats to its ecological health, including legacy pollutants like mercury and PCBs, polluted stormwater, and the challenges of drought and climate change.

Alexis Strauss, EPA's Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, announced the funding today at the 13th Biennial State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference in Oakland.

The following organizations received EPA grants for projects that benefit San Francisco Bay and its watersheds:

  • Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District will receive $1.5 million for the restoration of Lower Walnut Creek. This project will restore up to 110 acres of tidal wetlands and an additional 100 acres of transitional habitat (areas that will become wetlands as sea levels rise).
  • San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department will receive $1.2 million for remediation work at India Basin Waterfront Parks. This project will restore an area of tidal marsh with shoreline access by removing about 3,500 cubic yards of sediment contaminated with PCBs, copper, lead, mercury, and nickel.
  • Zone 7 Flood Control Agency will receive $1.1 million for watershed restoration work on Alameda Creek. This project will include constructing more than 2,000 feet of stream bank setbacks and floodplain areas, improving flood protection and steelhead trout habitat.
  • Ducks Unlimited will receive $500,000 for the continuation of wetland restoration work at Eden Landing, near Hayward. This phase will include designing plans to restore 1,300 acres of tidal wetlands, improving flood protection and habitat for endangered species, such as the Ridgway’s rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.

EPA also awarded a combined $878,245 to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to protect and restore water quality in and around the bay. This includes a $600,000 National Estuary Program grant for the implementation of the San Francisco Estuary Partnership's Estuary Blueprint. The Blueprint addresses issues such as rising sea levels, habitat loss, and urban pollutants through projects that include pollution prevention education for boaters and stormwater infrastructure development.

ABAG will also receive a $278,245 wetland grant to work in partnership with the San Francisco Estuary Institute on the development of a Bay Area wetland regional monitoring plan. The plan will provide a consistent way to measure over time how tidal wetlands are responding to both restoration efforts and stressors (such as sea level rise).

For more information about EPA’s San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund, visit: http://www.epa.gov/sfbay-delta/sf-bay-water-quality-improvement-fund

For more information about EPA’s National Estuary Program, visit: https://www.epa.gov/nep

For more information about EPA’s Wetland Program Development Grants, visit: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/wetland-program-development-grants

New Rainwater and Recycling Legislation Advances California Water Security

From the California Coastkeeper Alliance:

On October 6, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 231 (Hertzberg) and Assembly Bill 574 (Quirk) into law, paving the way for California communities to tap two climate-smart local water sources: rainwater and drinkable recycled water. California Coastkeeper Alliance and ten local Waterkeeper organizations championed the bills because they advance water security while reducing polluted runoff that contaminates rivers, streams and coastal waters.

“Recycled water and rainwater harvest are win-win solutions. We have just put these climate-smart water supplies in reach for more California communities,” says California Coastkeeper Alliance Policy Director Sean Bothwell. “Senator Hertzberg and Assemblymember Quirk’s legislation will help us turn a liability into an asset by reducing flooding and pollution while bolstering local water supplies. This is how California leads.”

Senate Bill 231, authored by Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), will make it easier for cities, counties and local water agencies to finance projects to capture and use rain that falls on roads and roofs during winter months. Often referred to as stormwater, this water has historically been flushed out to sea, along with all the chemicals and trash it picks up along the way. By capturing and cleaning rainwater for later use, cities can reduce flood risk and pollution while boosting water reliability.

Assembly Bill 574, authored by Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), will expand access to drought-proof recycled water. The law will create a five-year plan to make California the first state in the nation with statewide standards for drinkable recycled water. Many communities are already recycling water for drinking, but they must blend it with groundwater before serving it to consumers. By enabling utilities to deliver highly purified recycled water directly to customers, AB 574 will reduce the need for expensive new infrastructure.

“Here in Los Angeles, we dump 100 million gallons of freshwater into the ocean every day,” said Senator Hertzberg. “This legislation will help us put an end to that colossal waste, empowering cities to make wise use of the rain that falls during winter months, and then reuse it all year round by serving highly purified drinkable recycled water directly to consumers.”

“Southern California has made big strides with water recycling,” said Garry Brown of Orange County Coastkeeper. “In Orange County, it makes up a third of our supply. Assemblymember Quirk’s legislation will pave the way for even broader use of this sustainable water source, eliminating the need for more expensive alternatives that harm rather than help our coast.”

California Coastkeeper Alliance unites local Waterkeeper programs to fight for swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters for California communities and ecosystems. http://cacoastkeeper.org.

 

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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