NEWS WORTH NOTING: Statewide well test results for contaminants PFOA and PFOS now available through web-based maps; State Water Board set to consider CV-SALTS program

Statewide Well Test Results for Contaminants PFOA and PFOS Now Available Through Web-based Maps

Comprehensive Assessment to Continue with Updated Data

From the State Water Board:

The State Water Resources Control Board today posted the first results of testing for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) for nearly 600 drinking water supply wells, part of a comprehensive effort to assess the presence of these contaminants in water systems and groundwater statewide.

The results can be viewed on interactive maps on a user-friendly online portal that the State Water Board created for public reporting of the testing data.

In this first phase of testing, public water systems were ordered to sample drinking water supply wells near landfills or airports, locations where these chemicals are believed to be especially prevalent. They were also ordered to test wells near where the contaminants had been found previously.

PFOA and PFOS are chemicals that have been used in numerous industrial and consumer applications, from flame retardant foams commonly used at airports to water-repellent coatings for outdoor apparel, many of which were likely to have been discarded in landfills. These chemicals are particularly concerning because they don’t readily break down in the environment and have been found to accumulate over time in the human body.

In August, as the sampling was underway but complete results from the initial testing had yet to come in, the State Water Board lowered the notification level (NL) – the non-regulatory standard for requiring notification and further monitoring – from 14 parts per trillion (ppt) to 5.1 ppt for PFOA and from 13 ppt to 6.5 ppt for PFOS.

The new guidelines are based on updated health recommendations by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). Notification levels are a nonregulatory, precautionary health-based measure for concentrations in drinking water that warrant notification and further monitoring and assessment.

Public water systems are encouraged to test their water for contaminants with notification levels. In some circumstance, they may be ordered to test. If the systems do test voluntarily, they are required to report exceedances of the NL to their governing boards and the State Water Board. They are also urged to report this information to customers.

While results from the initial testing were coming in, the State Water Board has kept the response level (RL) – the non-regulatory standard for recommending that a drinking water supply well be taken out of service – at 70 ppt for the combined concentration of both contaminants. An updated response level will be announced this fall.

Water systems have several options for reducing levels of contaminants in water supplies to below the notification or response levels: they can treat the water, blend it with water from another source, or take the supply well out of service. The State Water Board’s online maps show whether a water system is taking any of these actions to reduce levels of PFOA and PFOS.

While water consumers may find the test results daunting or confusing in some cases, the public is cautioned to put the findings in perspective. The notification level is set very conservatively – in the parts per trillion – as the State Water Board assesses the extent of these contaminants in drinking water and the degree to which they may cause adverse health effects.

To that end, the State Water Board has already requested that OEHHA develop public health goals (PHGs) for both PFOA and PFOS, the next step in the process of establishing regulatory standards, known as maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), in drinking water.

Meanwhile, the State Water Board will gather more test data in the weeks and months to come, presenting it on the same web interface unveiled today to the public. The order requires ongoing, quarterly testing of these 600-plus supply wells and that data will be compiled on the web portal and presented on the interactive maps in the coming months. Subsequent phases of this comprehensive look into PFOA and PFAS will include groundwater testing as well as incorporating existing test data acquired from numerous federal facilities – particularly military bases throughout California.

This new tool, created over several months by a team of engineers, scientists and other staffers within the Division of Drinking Water, gives stakeholders, the media and the general public an opportunity to view the findings on four maps offering an escalating degree of detail and complexity. It’s all part of the State Water Board’s commitment to be thorough and transparent during this process.

Assembly Bill 756 (Cristina Garcia, Chapter 162, Statutes of 2019) authorizes the State Water Board to more broadly order water systems to monitor for PFAS and report their detections. Additionally, the law requires that drinking water sources with PFAS levels that exceed the response level are either to be taken out of service or the water system must provide public notice of the exceedance level. The law takes effect January 1, 2020.

For more information, please visit our resources page on these contaminants. Readers can find a frequently asked questions document, as well as a fact sheet that discusses ongoing efforts to add additional data to the interactive, dynamic web portal.

State Water Resources Control Board Sets Public Meeting October 16, 2019 to Consider a Resolution Approving the Proposed Amendments to Water Quality Control Plans for Sacramento River and San Joaquin River Basins and Tulare Lake Basin to Incorporate a Central Valley-Wide Salt and Nitrate Control Program

From the CV Salinity Coalition:

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) will hold a public meeting at which it will consider adopting a proposed draft resolution approving the proposed Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s (Central Valley Water 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 (Salt and Nitrate Control Program) and also directing the Central Valley Water Board to make targeted revisions to the Basin Plan amendments within one year from the approval of the Basin Plan amendments by the Office of Administrative Law.

The Basin Plan amendments were adopted by the Central Valley Water Board on May 31, 2018 (Resolution No. R5-2018-0034). The Basin Plan amendments are available for review at the Central Valley Water Board’s Salt and Nitrate Control Program Basin Plan Amendment webpage and here are direct links to the October 16, 2018, Public Meeting agenda item 3, proposed draft resolution, Response to Comments.

The State Water Board will hold the public meeting as follows:
Wednesday, October 16, 2019 – 9:30 a.m.
Joe Serna Jr. – CalEPA Headquarters Building Coastal Hearing Room 1001 I Street, Second Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814

Interested persons will have an opportunity to comment orally on the proposed action as the written comment period has closed. There will be no sworn testimony or cross-examination of interested persons, but the State Water Board and its staff may ask clarifying questions. The State Water Board may consider and adopt changes to the Proposed Final Basin Plan Amendments consistent with the general purpose of the amendments. Webcast of the Hearing will be available here: State Water Board’s Public Meeting Live Webcasts webpage.

In addition to the State Water Resources Control Board’s approval, the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) must also approve the Salt and Nitrate Control Program, and portions of the Salt Control Program are subject to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval.

New Salt and Nitrate Control Program Need

The buildup of salts and nitrate pose a threat to drinking water, agriculture, and the environment. Levels have increased in the waters of the Central Valley due to the long-term effects of population growth, application of farm fertilizers and soil amendments, food processing, and other industrial activities and municipal water use. The new Salt and Nitrate Control Program is designed to address both the past accumulation of salt and nitrate in groundwater and the ongoing issue of nitrate and salt accumulation. The primary focus for the first ten years of the program is to provide safe drinking water for users currently affected and reduce the level of nitrate affecting groundwater supplies used for drinking water.

The goals of the Salt and Nitrate Control Program are to provide safe drinking water to the Valley’s residents; sustain the Valley’s agricultural lifestyle, support regional economic growth, retain a world-class agricultural economy, maintain a reliable, high-quality water supply, and protect and enhance the environment. To support the goals, the Salt and Nitrate Control Program includes recommendations for new policies and regulatory strategies including:

1. Short- and long-term solutions for salt and nitrate discharges from municipal, agricultural, and industrial activities while first focusing on providing safe drinking water supplies in identified high-priority areas of the Central Valley.
2. A new regulatory framework that moves away from the current “one-size fits all” regulations and provides more locally focused nitrate regulations to better address the Central Valley’s natural diversities (e.g., climatic, hydrologic, geologic) while protecting water quality and maintaining a strong economy.
3. Long-term restoration of groundwater quality where reasonable, feasible, and practicable.

In the Central Valley, salt and nitrate discharges by agricultural, municipal, and industrial activities are subject to the regulations of the Regional Board. New and improved management practices have already been implemented to reduce salt and nitrate discharges, but compliance with current regulations is difficult and, in some areas of the Central Valley, likely impossible.

Key Regulatory Changes Included in New Salt and Nitrate Control Program

  • The Regional Board will be able to require municipal, agricultural, and industrial dischargers to provide safe drinking water supplies in identified high priority areas of the Central Valley that include the Kaweah, Turlock, Chowchilla, Tule, Modesto, and King basins or subbasins.
  • Dischargers will have alternative compliance pathways for meeting the Regional Board’s regulations for nitrate discharges: Path A – Individual Permitting Approach and Path B – Management Zone Approach.
  • Dischargers will have the flexibility to work together and form Management Zones where dischargers can collaborate to develop more cost-effective discharge controls and groundwater management approaches for nitrate while first providing safe drinking water.   Members of a management zone will work together to assure zone residents have safe drinking water. In exchange, the zone participants are allowed more time and flexibility to achieve nitrate compliance. The Regional Water Board provides guidance, oversight, and necessary approvals for management zone creation, planning, and implementation.

Additional Background

Over the last decade, the Central Valley Salinity Coalition (CVSC) has worked side-by-side with the Regional Water Board to prepare the January 2017 Salt and Nitrate Management Plan (SNMP) – the basis for the new Regional Water Board Salt and Nitrate Control Program. For a quick overview of the SNMP and Basin Plan amendment process: https://www.cvsalinity.org/docs/committee-document/pubic-education-and-outreach-docs/3756-cv-salts- outreach-brochure/file.html

The Central Valley is the epicenter of California’s economy—encompassing 40% of the state and providing water for people and businesses from San Francisco to San Diego, as well as food for California, the nation, and the world. Over the last 150 years, increased agricultural, industrial, and municipal activities, coupled with population growth, have resulted in dramatic increases in salts and nitrates in groundwater, soils, and surface waters. In some communities, the nitrate concentrations have caused unsafe drinking water. Salt accumulations have resulted in the loss of 250,000 productive acres, and 1.5 million acres have been declared salinity impaired. If not addressed, the economic impacts of salts and nitrates on the Valley are estimated to exceed $3 billion year.

The Regional Water Board oversees the regulation of agricultural, municipal, and industrial waste discharges of nitrates and salts within the Central Valley. The Regional Water Board uses Basin Plans as the basis for regulating water quality. http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley.

In 2006, a coalition of stakeholders, including federal, state and local agencies, permitted dischargers (e.g., growers, ranchers, municipalities, food processors), and environmental justice groups, started discussing how to maintain a strong economy while ensuring safe drinking water. This collaborative initiative is called the Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS) and this is the website: www.cvsalinity.org
In 2008, the Central Valley Salinity Coalition (CVSC) was formed to help fund the technical and scientific studies necessary to support the development of alternative regulatory approaches. CVSC is a non-profit coalition of public agencies, business, associations and other members working together to better manage salt and nitrates in the Central Valley of California. The CVSC formed to organize, facilitate, and fund efforts needed for the efficient management of salinity and nitrates in the Central Valley.

Current Members of CVSC include:  San Joaquin Valley Drainage Authority, California Association of Sanitation Agencies, California League of Food Producers, The Wine Institute, Dairy Cares, City of Fresno, City of Davis, City of Manteca, City of Modesto, City of Tracy, City of Stockton, City of Vacaville, Central Valley Clean Water Agencies, South San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, Northern California Water Association, Tulare Lake Drainage and Water Districts, Stockton East Water District, California Cotton Growers and Ginners Association, California Rice Commission, San Joaquin Tributary Authority, Western Plant Health Association, East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, San Joaquin County & Delta Water Quality Coalition, Pacific Water Quality Association, Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, California Resources Corporation, Westlands Water District, Valley Water Management Company, and California Independent Producers Association.

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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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