CV-SALTS: An overview of the salt and nitrate permitting changes proposed for the Central Valley

An evaporation pond in Kings County, a portion of the San Joaquin Valley, with a groundwater basin which is internally drained and closed basin. It has no appreciable surface or subsurface outflow, expect in wet years. Salts are introduced into the basin with imported water supplies. When the water evaporates, the majority of the salts stay behind.
Dale Kolke / DWR

The State Water Resources Control Board will hold a public meeting on October 16 to consider adopting a resolution approving the proposed Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s amendments to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Basin Plan and the Tulare Lake Basin Plan to incorporate a Central Valley-wide Salt and Nitrate Control Program. The Basin Plan amendments were adopted by the Central Valley Water Board on May 31, 2018 (Resolution R5-2018- 0034).

The Salt and Nitrate Control Program provides a new framework for the Regional Water Board to regulate salt and nitrate, while also ensuring a safe drinking water supply and are considered the most significant changes in decades to the regulation of salts and nitrates in the surface and ground waters of Central Valley.  If approved by the State Water Board, it will then be followed with the approval from Office of Administrative Law and the US EPA adoption processes.

At the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) conference last May, a panel discussed the CV-SALTS plan in detail.  Speaking on this panel:

  • Theresa (Tess) Dunham is a managing stakeholder at Somach Simmons & Dunn, where she utilizes her background having grown up on a family farm to work on agriculture and water quality issues.  She has been actively involved as counsel in the CV-SALTS process.
  • Parry Klassen is with the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition where he works with with nearly 3,400 landowners who together irrigate 704,670 acres of land in Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Mariposa counties.
  • Maria Herrera is Community Development Manager for Self-Help Enterprises, a community development organization whose mission is to work together with low-income families to build and sustain healthy homes and communities in eight Central Valley counties.  She is also a member of the California Water Commission.

The panel was moderated by Daniel Cozad, the Executive Director for the Central Valley Salinity Coalition.

Moderator Daniel Cozad began with a brief introduction to set the stage.  There is a problem with salt accumulation in the Central Valley; this affects some areas more than others.  Already, 250,000 acres have been taken out of agricultural production because of impacts to agricultural lands from salt accumulation; another 1.5 million acres are considered salinity-impaired.  It’s estimated that by 2030, the cost to the Central Valley will be about of $1.5 billion per year.  Mr. Cozad also pointed out that current planned activities would address about 15% of that salt so there is still a lot of work to be done.

Another somewhat related problem in the Central Valley is that there are nitrates in the groundwater that are above water quality objectives in many areas.  This especially affects many of the disadvantaged communities that rely on groundwater for their drinking water supplies.

Salt and nitrate discharges in the Central Valley are regulated by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.  However, compliance with current regulations is difficult and, in some areas, even impossible.  Existing regulations don’t give enough flexibility to the regional board to be able to write permits to keep people farming or keep communities working and they don’t end up fixing the problem of nitrates and salinity, either, Mr. Cozad said.  New, updated, flexible regulations are needed that address natural diversities (climatic, hydrologic, geologic), protect water quality, but also maintain economic activities.

In 2006, a collective effort which included agriculture, cities, dischargers, environmental interests, and regulators all began working together to address the salt and nitrate issues while also supporting the Central Valley’s economy, communities, industry and agriculture.  The goals are to provide safe drinking water supplies by developing short and long-term solutions, to reduce nitrate and salt impacts to water supplies, and ultimately restore groundwater quality where it is reasonable and feasible to do so.

These are goals that are set in time,” said Mr. Cozad.  “There are urgent first goals, there are goals that are sort of an intermediate balance philosophy, and then ultimately to get basins back to being able to meet those goals in the long-term.”

The first step was to learn how the regional water board writes a basin plan – what you can legally do, what you can’t do, how you would go about it, what you need to support it, and what is a Supplemental Environmental Document; they then spent a bit of time learning about what the problem was.

Most people knew the problem in their area, but almost no one knew the problem in somebody else’s area in enough detail to figure out what the regulation that might solve that is,” he said.

After they understood how to write a basin plan and what everybody’s problem was, they next spent time writing a comprehensive salt and nitrate management plan which was ultimately accepted by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.  That was then turned into basin planning language, a staff report, and a supplemental environmental document that was then approved by the regional board in 2018.

Because basin plans are reviewed and approved by the State Water Resources Control Board, on September 17th, the board will hold a public hearing and consider approving the basin plan amendments.  After the Board’s approval, it will go to the Office of Administrative Law for review, and the surface water elements will go to the US EPA for their approval before they are implemented.

TESS DUNHAM: OVERVIEW OF SALINITY MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

Tess Dunham gave a presentation on the details of the CV-SALTS program.

Most of us in the water world understand the problem with salts and that it’s basically a result of human activity,” began Tess Dunham.  “Salts accumulates – it accumulates in wastewater, it accumulates from farming and industry and it is what it is.  We are part of society, and that’s what will accumulate and what will happen.”

The Central Valley is a bowl that has started to fill up with salt, and we need to figure out how to manage the salt in that bowl, she said.  There are many impacts to a buildup of salt, with the most sensitive beneficial use for salinity problems is agriculture as it will impact yields.  There are municipal problems such as taste, odor, and treatment problems, as well as causing corrosion of pipes and fixtures.  Salinity can also impact aquatic habitats.

Clearly we don’t want salt to accumulate to such large levels that we cannot be sustainable,” she said.

While they were working on developing the salt control program, the issue of nitrates arose, so they started working on that as well.  The goals for nitrate management are similar:  We need to control the rate of degradation, we need to achieve long-term sustainability and prevent continued impacts to salt sensitive areas, and ultimately we want to make sure that we control salts, maintain economic sustainability, and the viability of agriculture in California, said Ms. Dunham.

The program is currently pending before the State Water Board. It does have components that impact surface water and so it will require some of it to go forward to the US EPA for approval.  Approval is expected in 2019 and the coalition is optimistic that will happen.

The program is a phased program with both long-term and short-term strategies.  For long-term salinity management, the plan is to take the next ten to fifteen years to prepare a Prioritization and Optimization Study (PNO study).   The purpose of the study is to start identifying what salt management projects and actions can be taken to start achieving salt sustainability.  Ms. Dunham acknowledged that building an out-of-valley drain for salts has been discussed for decades, and the PNO study will continue to evaluate that, but the plan will also look at regional solutions as well as funding options.  The study is expected to take ten to fifteen years and cost $10-$15 million.

So it’s not just how do we build an out-of-valley drain; it’s looking at things much more comprehensively and looking at how do we manage salts over that long-term,” she said.

The program proposes an interim planning approach during the PNO study time-frame for dischargers that are subject to waste discharge permits that requires people to maintain their current status quo and to improve salinity management to the extent that they can, with respect to management practices and source control.

Until we have a full Valley solution, we are not asking people at this point in time to start building RO for wastewater treatment plants so they can meet very stringent salinity limits,” said Ms. Dunham.  “The cost is astronomical and the environmental impact is negligible, so therefore we need to take a much longer and broader look at it.  In the meantime, the idea is to control the amount of salinity that’s being discharged, implement management practices and try to maintain current levels to the best that we can.”

As a part of that interim permitting approach, dischargers will have two options:

The conservative pathway is available to those dischargers who can meet the stringent permitting requirements; Ms. Dunham pointed out that this could be quite costly, depending on the discharger.

The alternative pathway is to participate in the PNO study, which will allow dischargers to maintain the current status quo and implement management practices and source control.  Ms. Dunham acknowledged that they cannot force dischargers to participate in the PNO study, but they can incentivize participation.

We fully expect that a good portion of Central Valley dischargers – agriculture, waste water, industry, wineries, food processors – will all participate in funding this $10-15 million study, and with that, you will receive a performance-based permit from the Water Board,” she said.  “We also anticipate that while the focus right now at the regional board is over those that discharge salinity within the Central Valley, the solution is well beyond that.  We fully anticipate that the water supply community is going to be interested and want to know what we’re saying with respect to salinity management in the Central Valley and so we encourage all of you to come and participate in the PNO study as we look to determine what are the long-term solutions for addressing salinity management in the Central Valley.  In my mind, it is not just a Central Valley issue, it’s a statewide issue.”

TESS DUNHAM: OVERVIEW OF THE NITRATE CONTROL PROGRAM

Ms. Dunham then turned to the nitrate control program.  “With respect to nitrates, clearly the biggest issue is making sure that we have safe drinking water,” she said.  “There have been a number of efforts that have gone on in the legislature … it is something that we in agriculture have been working towards, and there’s different ways that we look to provide safe drinking water.

She noted that the legislative pathway is one way to address the problem, but she will be focusing on how safe drinking water is addressed in the CV-SALTS program.

Nitrates in the groundwater is a problem in parts of the Central Valley, especially in the Southern San Joaquin area.  However, there are also problems in Yolo County, Merced, Madera, and parts of northern San Joaquin County.  High levels of nitrates in groundwater can result in negative health effects for people who drink the water.  Similar to salinity, whether its agriculture, municipalities, rural residences – everybody contributes in some level to the amount of nitrate that is going into surface waters and groundwater, she said.  However, the CV-SALTS program is focused strictly on nitrates in groundwater.

They have identified the priority areas for the nitrate control program, recognizing that they can’t take on everything at once.  The priority areas are shown in red; the orange areas are to come online in 2 to 4 years, and those areas shown in green are at the discretion of the regional board to decide when they need to comply with the nitrate control program.

The groundwater basin boundaries are also shown on the map, Ms. Dunham noted that it is not surprising that the priority areas for nitrates are also the critically overdrafted groundwater basins: the Kaweah, Turlock, Chowchilla, Tule, Modesto, and Kings.

Ms. Dunham then presented a map of the Turlock groundwater basin, noting that the CV-SALTS has a comprehensive database for nitrates and salts in California and the map of the Turlock basin shows the level of detail that they have.

The number one goal as we’ve said in CV-SALTS is to provide safe drinking water, especially in these small disadvantaged communities, but we also need to make sure that we can maintain agriculture, our industries, and our communities, so how do we balance the two?” she said.  “That’s the key component of the whole CV-SALTS program and the nitrate control program; it’s balancing the need for safe drinking water while ensuring the sustainability of our Central Valley communities and the economy that we have.

The new nitrate control program provides the regional board with more discretion and flexibility, but it’s not a ‘get out of jail free card’, Ms. Dunham said.  “Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It creates new authority within the basin plan that the regional board then has to exercise and they only can exercise based upon making findings, meeting certain criteria, and making sure that people are ensuring safe drinking water.”

There are two options for compliance that dischargers have under the nitrate control program:  The first one is to form a management zone and the other is the conservative path approach.

We can’t force people to participate in management zones; the regional board and the State Board can’t mandate it, but they can incentivize it,” she said.  “People do have an option.  If you are a waste water treatment agency and you have just built a brand new treatment plant that can treat wastewater to 8 milligrams per liter for nitrate so you’re below the standard, that might be a pathway that you might want to go down.  But for most dischargers, the other pathway, forming a management zone, is going to be easier and better and probably a more effective pathway than trying to go it alone.”

Under the current law, if you are discharging in groundwater basin where nitrates exceed the drinking water standard, the water board has two options: They can give you a time schedule, such as 5 years, to get your discharge below drinking water standard or they can prohibit your discharge.  Neither those are not great options, she noted.

The basin plan amendment would give the water board new options.  One of those options is it gives them the authority to grant an exception for meeting the nitrate drinking water standard in discharges to groundwater.  But it’s not a get out of jail free card, Ms. Dunham emphasized; it’s mandated in the basin plan that the water board can only grant that exception for meeting that nitrate objective if they ensure that everybody within the management zone that relies on groundwater has drinking water that does not exceed the nitrate standard.  Some communities have already added wellhead treatment systems, but there are a lot of households on domestic wells, and if their well exceeds the drinking water standard, the dischargers mush find a way to supply them with an alternative drinking water source.

It’s a tradeoff.  You have to ensure safe drinking water, and if you’re ensuring safe drinking water, then we can be a little bit more flexible on how we apply water quality standards with respect to nitrates and groundwater,” she said.  “The management zone is looking at meeting that in a shared responsibility implementation pathway.

The management zones will be locally led, but must be approved by the regional board because it is part of the regional board’s regulatory program.  She pointed out that these locally-led groups have come together before, such as the irrigated ag land coalitions and more recently with the establishment of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies.

This is something we have all done time over and over and we know how to do it,” she said.  “It takes leadership, and it takes people stepping up and stepping out, but it is a locally led effort, and I fully anticipate that those that step out first are going to be those dischargers who have the most to lose if there’s not an exception and a viable management zone available.

The program is implemented through permits; the water board will put the requirements for the management zone in the wastewater discharge permit.  It is enforceable, so there is a big incentive for dischargers to follow through and make sure people have safe drinking water, as well as address nitrate in the groundwater over the long term.

Once the State Water Board adopts the basin plan amendments and they are approved by the Office of Administrative Law, the regional board will get ready to send out a notice to comply to the dischargers in priority areas.   Once the discharger receives the notice to comply, all the dischargers in the area have 270 days to put together a preliminary management zone proposal and an early action plan.

There are specific requirements for preliminary proposals that include a plan for establishing managed restoration, community collaboration, funding and cost share agreements, nitrate management activities, monitoring, and milestones for implementation.  The early action plan lays out the implementation plan for short-term and interim drinking water solutions for those in the management zone that need safe drinking water.  The final management zone proposal is due about 6 months after the Water Board comments on the preliminary proposal.  Then the Management Zone Implementation Plan must be developed, which is the long-range plan for recovering groundwater to the point that it meets nitrate drinking water standards.

Ms. Dunham pointed out that a lot of the management practices for nitrate that will likely be in included in the Management Zone Implementation Plans will also be the same activities that GSAs are looking at putting in their GSPs to manage sustainable yield.  “I think there’s a little bit of an overlay,” she said.  “I’ve heard lots of different reactions from GSA managers; some are excited, some are less so, so it’s been all over the board.  But the whole thing is, it is flexible because we know different areas will want to address it in a different way.  It does not mandate that a GSA do it, but it does require there be discussion and coordination.”

Unlike the GSAs which were created in statute, the management zone authority is created in the basin plan as an alternative compliance pathway.  Amongst those dischargers that are working together, it’s more of a contractual relationship, but it is made enforceable by the water board putting those terms within the permit once the management zone implementation plan has been submitted.  It is implemented through Waste Discharge Requirements which is where it varies from the GSAs and the GSA requirements.

The management zone does not have fee authority, but Ms. Dunham said it will likely be administered a lot like the irrigated lands coalitions where participants have to pay, and a discharger’s failure to pay is not meeting a term of the management zone and is turned over to the water board for noncompliance.

After the preliminary proposal is posted, any dischargers not participating in the preliminary management zone have 60 days to decide if they are going to participate in the management zone or not.  If they choose not to participate, they have to show how they are going to comply with water quality standards without being part of the management zone, and if they are impacting drinking water, they have to have their own early action plan.

So they don’t escape drinking water requirements and early action plan requirements for going it on their own, so they just are doing it by themselves,” Ms. Dunham said.  “I personally believe the management zone approach is going to be far more reliable and efficient in a lot of ways and in most areas.  There will be a few exceptions to that.”

When the management zone implementation plan is finalized, it will require a regional board action and it will be subject to CEQA as well as board approval.

There are some management zone implementation plan requirements that overlap GSP requirements, and she noted that more than likely, the same people will be paying for both.  “Farmers hate paying twice for the same thing,” she said.  “They hate paying twice for administrative costs, they hate paying twice for same monitoring for the same groundwater basin, so the more that we can work collaboratively together to try to streamline and avoid duplicative efforts and duplicative costs will make all of our lives a whole lot easier.

Ms. Dunham acknowledged that GSAs are more focused on the quantity but she pointed out that a lot of the actions GSAs will be taking are likely also to be part of what is needed to do to improve nitrate conditions in groundwater.  “We do think that they can fit well together.  They won’t be exact, but we think that there’s a great symbiotic relationship between the two and we need to make it efficient for everybody.”

PARRY KLASSEN: PILOT PROGRAMS

Parry Klassen has been the chair of CV-SALTS program for ten years; he started as a participant from an agriculture coalition.  He is the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program Manager for the East San Joaquin Water Coalition which includes Madera, Merced, and Stanislaus County.

Photo by DWR

When the participants started the CV-SALTS process, they knew the salt issue was a top priority, but he along with everyone else saw the turn from salt to nitrates about five years ago.  When the studies came back, they realized the magnitude of the nitrate issue in the Central Valley.

Although there are a lot of areas in the Valley that don’t have any nitrate issues, there is a significant amount of land overlying high nitrate areas.  The nitrate control program has an alternative pathway of creating a management zone.  While it is certainly up to people to decide if they want to participate in a management zone or take the conservative pathway, Mr. Klassen said he feels they have studied nitrates and the use of nitrogen fertilizers enough to be able to say they cannot guarantee that that they can meet ten milligrams per liter below the root zone.

Some crops we can and some people think they can do it, but I’ve yet to see any really good data on that,” he said.  “But we know that we cannot control our nitrates 100% of the time, which is the regional board expects when you have a contaminant in a drinking water zone.  So the management zone option for irrigated ag seems to be the only option we have to keep us viable.  As this regulation is adopted by the State Board and the basin plan adopted, if we want to stay in farming, we can show we’re doing a better job managing nitrates which is a requirement of being in a management zone.  We want to be able to continue farming; we cannot stop farming because of our vulnerability to sometimes leaching nitrates.”

He presented a slide showing the priority areas, noting that the East San Joaquin Water Coalition encompasses three of six priority areas.

Once the basin plan is adopted, the deadlines will come quickly, so they are focused on getting an idea on how to make these management zones work.  With some leftover funding, they were able to find funding for two pilot studies, one in the Turlock subbasin and the other in the King Basin.  Working with consultants, they are walking through how to create the various deliverables, such as the preliminary management zone proposal and the early action plan with the idea that once the two pilots are done, all the other groups participating in management zones can take advantage of the template and the lessons learned and hit the ground running with an idea of the plans will look like, what will need to be developed, and what research might need to be done.

In meetings last winter, they had over 50 people sign up to be on the interest list, and they have been meeting at least once a month to begin developing these plans.   Initially, their work has been developing maps and getting an initial assessment of groundwater conditions; they then began mapping domestic wells. Mr. Klassen noted that there are over 2000 domestic wells in the Turlock subbasin.  They also are working on their early action plan of how they are going to provide drinking water for those who have high nitrates in their drinking water.

What we’re going to need to do is identify all these residences,” he said.  “There is pretty good mapping capabilities with GIS and the county systems.  We’re going to be working with the groundwater agencies, state agencies, and others that have the ability to identify these sites, and then we have to figure out how we are going to get this water out to people.  It may be things like fill stations; there possibly may be water delivery.  There’s still a lot of discussion on how that will work.  And then, final question, how are we going to pay for this?

He then presented a series of maps that were developed for the Turlock subbasin as part of the project that show where there are nitrates in the upper aquifer, disadvantaged communities, domestic wells, and locations of key dischargers.

There are a large number of domestic wells that are outside of a public water system; it will be challenging to notify all of these people, he said.

In the irrigated lands program, we have approximately 1200 property owners that are in the area,” he said.  “They are not necessarily based in Turlock but they have parcels that are in the Turlock basin, so we have quite a challenge in front of us, and looking forward to seeing a successful program.”

MARIA HERRERA: PROVIDING ALTERNATIVE WATER SUPPLIES

Maria Herrera works for Self-Help Enterprises, a non-profit organization based in Visalia that serves an eight county service area, stretching from Stanislaus County to Kern County.  They provide technical assistance to communities on water and wastewater issues, and work with several communities that rely on private domestic wells.  Ms. Herrera is the manager of the Community Engagement and Planning Program; her team focuses on helping communities be part of informed water management planning, including implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  She has been involved in the CV-SALTS program and has been working with partners to figure out how to get folks safe drinking water.

Nitrate contamination affects those that rely on public systems, as well as a significant number of folks that rely on private domestic wells that serve either one or two households.  The majority of people on domestic wells may not actually know if their water has high levels of nitrates, because many have never tested their water.

Nitrate is a contaminant that can cause acute health conditions; the most vulnerable populations to ingesting this water are pregnant women and children six months of age or younger.  With that in mind, Self-Help Enterprises in August of 2016 began a pilot program in partnership with the CV-SALTS Coalition and the County of Tulare to identify how to help folks test their water and also provide them an interim source of water if the results come back with high nitrate contamination.

Since the beginning of the program, it has gone through several phases and they have additional partners now, including Porterville WIC Office and Family Health Care Network and other community-based organizations.

With the CV-SALTS Coalition and the idea that management zones would be formed in the future, they wanted to target the most vulnerable populations and help them get information about their water supply and interim supplies if warranted.   The best way to reach those folks is to work with the agencies that serve those vulnerable populations, and so the program initially began offering free water sampling at the Porterville WIC Office.  They selected Porterville because it has a high number of households on private domestic wells and also is an area that’s prone to nitrate contamination.  The goal was to develop recommendations for the future management zones so that they could have some options to consider on how to provide drinking water supplies to those who need it.

Initially it was a six month program, but it has evolved and is ongoing.  They have had successes and challenges along the way.  As a success, they were able to get several folks to participate in the voluntary water sampling program.  At first, the families who came to the WIC Office would complete a consent form to verify that they are served by a private domestic well; not everyone was sure if they were served by a water system or a domestic well.  If they qualified, they would be provided a home sampling kit with instructions; they were responsible for taking that kit home, conducting the sampling, and returning back to the WIC Office.  A lot of people who picked up the kit did the sampling and returned the kit.

One of the challenges was they had to have staff go out to the homes and sample the water as some of the families did not have transportation, or there were timing issues.

Overall, we have been able to sample over 100 wells, just in the Porterville area,” said Ms. Herrera.  “We have been able to assist folks that did have nitrate exceedances.”

Customers had two options for replacement water.  The first was bottled water home delivery service from a local vendor; the family would receive a certain amount of five gallon jugs and as they were used them, it was replenished.  The second option was to install a point-of-use (POU) filter that would be installed in the kitchen sink to filter the water coming out of that tap.  They created a screening tool to determine who would qualify for a point of use device.  If the person is a renter, you must obtain the permission of the homeowner.  Also, it’s important to make sure the unit can actually reduce the levels to safe levels, because in some instances, the nitrate levels were pretty high.

Out of the over one hundred wells tested, about half exceeded the MCL for nitrates.  There were challenges with being able to supply safe sources of water; sometimes it was due to restricting it to folks that meet the WIC participant criteria, or being able to follow up get the consent forms.

But overall we have been able to provide both bottled water and point of use devices to the majority of those households,” said Ms. Herrera.  “In some instances we were able to transfer people off of bottled water and have them use a point of use device that they can maintain.  We also work with the families to help them understand how it works and how to properly maintain it.”

They are now wrapping up the pilot program, which was intended for them to learn how to deliver this program to the vulnerable populations with the idea that hopefully the management zones can pick this up and continue to provide interim sources of water, as well as utilize the lessons learned and recommendations to replicate the program.

As for lessons learned, they learned that families are willing to get their water sampled; they even had folks outside of the Porterville area interested.  One of the goals was to target vulnerable populations so partnering with the Porterville WIC office was a great idea because that’s who they directly work with, she said.

Photo by DWR

It’s also important to partner with organizations that are locally based and that are trusted by the community.  “In this area, a lot of folks know Self Help Enterprises and know that we work on water and wastewater issues, so they weren’t suspect about what we were trying to do with the nitrate results,” Ms. Herrera said.  “Are you then going to sell us something later?

Ongoing outreach and education is needed, so they’ve developed several tools for communities as well as their partners that are helping to implement the program.   For example, they realized that they need a prompt to remind the counselors at WIC when they are interviewing a client to remind the counselor to ask folks if they were on a private well and if they wanted their well sampled, plus a prompt that the person being interviewed to ask about free water sampling.

One of the first challenges encountered was people not returning the samples, and when they investigated as to why, a lot of people didn’t have transportation or were only planning on coming back to the Porterville WIC office in 3 to 6 months.  Ms. Herrera acknowledged that it’s challenging to try to implement something in six months, because sometimes those first six months are spent trying to get things off the ground and coordinate with your stakeholders.

They also learned that sometimes the water pressure in people’s homes may affect the performance of the point of use systems; this was resolved by funding the installation of the booster pump.  Booster pumps also helped homes that had higher nitrate exceedances.  Working with different partners, they negotiated a package deal with Culligan that incorporated the POU unit but also the TDS monitor and the flow meter so families would have indicators to tell them when they should be maintaining their filters.  As part of the package, the family would get replacement cartridges for one year.  They have been able to show that the POU devices reduce the nitrate levels to a safe levels and sometimes even non-detectable levels.

We’re just really excited to be able to participate in this program,” she said.  “We are in the evaluation phase where we are trying to wrap up the report so we can share that with the CV-SALTS coalition, and we’re really looking forward to working with the management zones so that they can continue to assist the families that are on the program but also help them as they implement their early action steps.

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS

An audience member asked about a settlement involved with the Tulare pilot project.

Tess Dunham it was called the Kaweah Settlement Agreement, and it’s available on the State Water Board’s website.  “It is not directly related to the management zone itself; there’s definitely some overlay,” she said.  “The settlement is an agreement between the Office of Enforcement and the State Water Board and three of the irrigated agriculture coalitions down in the Tulare area: the Tule, the Kaweah, and the Kings.”

The primary terms of the settlement agreement are that these three ag coalitions have agreed to develop eight regional fill stations, basically making the availability of water that meets drinking water standards open to anybody,” Ms. Dunham continued.  “it does not require any type of testing; there’s no ID check, there’s no residential check, it’s just open and available for people to go to.  In exchange for developing the regional fill stations, the State Water Board has basically said they will not bring clean up and abatement actions against irrigated ag coalition members in those three coalitions because they are paying for the fill stations.”

You may know that the Office of Enforcement at the State Water Board a couple of years ago embarked on a new process to try and get agriculture to start paying for replacement water prior to the implementation of CV-SALTS,” Ms. Dunham continued.  “They started to threaten clean up and abatement orders against agriculture if they didn’t start taking on some type of a process to make replacement water available.  That’s what had happened there.  The settlement agreement is in response to those threatened clean up and abatement orders.

But where the overlap is, the early action plans that we talked about that a management zone needs to do.  When we started to develop the settlement agreement and there’s actually a provision within the settlement agreement that says we hope the regional water board, when it comes times to approve an early action plan, will recognize that the fill stations can be whole or in part of an early action plan for those areas, so that’s where the overlap comes between the two,” Ms. Dunham said.  “I will also note that there is a provision within the settlement agreement that says if someone is unable to travel to a regional fill station, then we have to work to make it, within certain criteria, that they get water delivered somehow.  So that is the settlement agreement that has been entered into with the coalitions and the State Water Board.

Question: I initially thought that every discharger in the management zone had to participate, but I understand that if you are permitted and you are in compliance with your permit, you don’t have to participate in the management zones.

An evaporation pond in Kings County
Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources

Yes, someone can go an individual route, even if they are in a defined management zone area,” said Ms. Dunahm.  “If they are an individual permittee, they could go to the water board and say, ‘I don’t want to participate in that management zone because I can comply by x, y, and z.’   While that is legally allowed under the terms of the basin plan amendment, as anybody knows in an irrigated lands coalition, the water board’s preference is for you to participate in the management zone, and the water board can use its pressure or its charm, whatever you want to call it, to encourage people to participate in that management zone, versus the water board granting them that individual permit within the management zone.”

I have a firm belief that the water board is going to really push people to the management zone, unless it’s very unique,” continued Ms. Dunham.  “They installed some high level of treatment, they’ve expended a lot money, they are not causing and contributing, they are well below the drinking water standard, they are not degrading groundwater, they don’t need a similar capacity, but I think those are going to be few and far between in those areas.”

Question for Maria:  You gave customers the option of either having bottled water or point of use filter.  What was the split there?

We are still running the numbers, but I will say initially people opted for bottled water, and then later we found out it’s because people didn’t trust the water from the point-of-use,” said Maria Herrera.  “So we have had to do a lot of education so what we were doing was if you agreed to have a point-of-use installed, we did a three month piloting phase where we would go out and sample the water so not only to help us then develop the educational material to tell them how to properly maintain that, but also show them with real data that the point of use filter was actually working and reducing the nitrate levels to safe levels.  But even then, we in our home visits, one of the things we implemented was having the filter have a flow meter, and in some instances we were noticing that folks weren’t using  a lot of water, so we started to ask why, and it was like, they weren’t sure if it was safe.  But since then and now that we’ve been able to show folks that the filters use, I think it’s about half of the folks on point of use filters and half on bottled water at this time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION …

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