NEWS WORTH NOTING: Sonoma County: New groundwater monitoring wells will provide ‘picture’ of underground water connections; PCFFA, Coalition protests Grasslands Bypass Project permit extension; The Trump administration continues to streamline and modernize EPA

Sonoma County: New groundwater monitoring wells will provide ‘picture’ of underground water connections

From the Sonoma Water:

During the months of October and November, up to 21 groundwater monitoring wells will be drilled near Sonoma County creeks to provide new information to managers and the public on the link between groundwater and stream flows. Coordination and construction of the wells are a technical service provided by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to Sonoma County’s three Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs).

Each well will be about 50 feet deep, and will be designed specifically for measuring water levels throughout the year. These measurements, when paired with information about the water flowing in nearby streams, help paint a picture of the link between groundwater aquifers and the surface water in creeks, streams and rivers.

“We can’t see what’s beneath the surface, so these monitoring wells act like underground telescopes. They can help us see how much and when water is available,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who serves as the chair of the Sonoma Valley GSA.

The connection between groundwater and surface water is an important component of the Groundwater Sustainability Plans that are being prepared by Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain and Sonoma Valley GSAs. The state-required plans must determine if groundwater pumping is resulting in the loss of water in streams that support endangered and threatened fish and other species.

“These wells will help us better understand the link between specific streams and aquifers so we can make informed decisions about how to protect fish, other wildlife and plants during future droughts and in our changing climate,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who is Chair of the Santa Rosa Plain GSA.

The monitoring wells are installed by drilling holes that are about eight-inches in diameter, until water is reached (around 50 feet). A narrow (2 ½ inch) slotted PVC pipe is fitted into the hole, which is then capped. The wells will then be monitored by GSA staff using instrumentation provided by DWR to track water levels and temperature throughout the year and compared with data from nearby surface water gauges. Each well costs approximately $15,000 to construct and develop. These costs are being paid for by DWR through its Technical Support Services program. DWR has also provided financial assistance in the form of planning grants to help these local agencies develop their GSPs.

“The well drilling will cost DWR more than $300,000 that otherwise would have been paid by local agencies. This is big boon to our community, and the information provided will be invaluable,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who chairs the Petaluma Valley GSA.

DWR Deputy Director Taryn Ravazzini said, “DWR is committed to helping local water managers succeed in their efforts to sustainably manage the state’s groundwater basins. Through DWR technical support services such as those pursued by Sonoma County’s GSAs, tangible progress can be made toward ensuring a resilient water supply future.”

The wells will be constructed in various locations, including parking lots, vineyards, on road shoulders, creek paths, and other publicly owned land. Each well is slated to take less than one day to construct, and disruption from construction activities will be minimal. For more information about local groundwater go to  www.petalumavalleygroundwater.org; www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org; www.sonomavalleygroundwater.org.

PCFFA, Coalition Send Letter to Central Valley Regional Water Board on Continued Toxic Discharges into the Bay-Delta via the Grasslands Bypass Project

From the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations:

Today the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations led a coalition of fishing organizations, tribes, and environmental groups in sending a letter to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board condemning plans to extend permitting of the Grasslands Bypass Project (GBP).

After two decades of promises to cease toxic discharges of selenium and other contaminants into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Regional Board are poised to sanction a quarter century of continued toxic discharges into the Delta via the GBP. These discharges frequently exceed numerous water quality criteria. Allowing decades of relaxed standards will impact the entire aquatic food chain, endangered and commercially harvested salmon, migratory birds, recreational fisheries, and communities that rely on the Delta for drinking water.

The GBP commenced operations in 1995 as a two-year program. Its initial federal use agreements have now been extended three times, and the project has been granted numerous waste discharge waivers. All of the permits, environmental reviews, and findings that supported these use agreements were predicated on zero discharge at the end of each agreement’s term: first for 5 years, then 10 more years, and then 10 additional years. All that time—25 years in total—polluted discharge from the GBP confirmed to exceed toxicity thresholds was either entirely exempt from meeting protective water quality standards, or only required to meet relaxed, greatly reduced standards. Furthermore, over that 25-year-period the GBP steadily reduced both its monitoring of polluted discharges and its record of compliance .

The Newsom and Trump Administrations’ non-compliant proposed action comes despite a court ruling at the 9th Circuit earlier this year, which found that commingled stormwater and agricultural discharges are not exempt from the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

“Fishermen and coastal communities have been dealing with the mess from upstream polluters for decades. The result is poisoned waterways, fish stocks at a fraction of historic levels, and losses to salmon fishing jobs and California’s own seafood resource,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of PCFFA. “Meaningful solutions for these agricultural discharges are adequate wastewater treatment and implementing the land retirements that have been called for by federal agencies for decades, not continued dumping into public waterways. Governor Newsom has a real opportunity to avoid cementing a toxic legacy for the Delta and California’s fishing communities that rely on clean water by abandoning this course of action.”

A public hearing on the RWQCB’s proposed action will be held on December 5th.

The Trump administration continues to streamline and modernize EPA

EPA Proposes First Updates To Environmental Appeals Board In 27 Years

From the US EPA:

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to streamline and modernize the review of permits by the agency’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) while providing more flexibility to regulated parties, states and tribes, and the public. Under this proposal, interested parties would be empowered to choose the option for resolving a permit dispute that is best suited to their needs.

The Agency’s proposal aims to facilitate speedy resolution of permit disputes—either through alternative dispute resolution, a hearing before the Board, or more timely judicial review. EPA proposes several additional reforms designed to streamline the current administrative appeal process and to provide appropriate checks and balances on how the EAB exercises its delegated authority. The Agency is seeking broad input through the public comment process on these proposed changes.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, we have made the Agency more accountable to the public and with this proposal we are continuing to build on that success,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “The Agency now works more collaboratively with the states and tribes than it did 27 years ago and the EAB’s new role will reflect this reality.”

The proposal’s key elements are designed to simplify the review process, expedite permitting, and allow parties who would like to challenge EPA’s permits in court to do so more quickly. The proposal builds on the Board’s successful voluntary Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program that, to date, has resolved over 90 percent of cases that have gone through the program without litigation. The EAB’s ADR program promotes faster resolution of issues and more creative, satisfying and enduring solutions. The proposal provides parties challenging EPA’s permits with options to resolve their disputes, including ADR or a traditional appeal before Board. All parties would have a voice, and if they do not unanimously agree on the path forward, the permit becomes final and can be challenged in federal court without going through additional administrative process within the EPA.

The proposal also seeks to clarify the scope and standard of EAB review; remove a provision authorizing participation in appeals by amicus curiae; and eliminate the EAB’s authority to review Regional permit decisions on its own initiative in the absence of an appeal brought by an interested party. EPA also includes new deadlines for EAB action and other provisions to promote internal efficiency.

Finally, EPA also proposes to set twelve-year terms for EAB Judges in lieu of the indefinite terms currently in place; a new process to identify which EAB opinions will be considered precedential; and a new mechanism by which the Administrator, through the General Counsel, can issue a dispositive legal interpretation in any matter pending before the EAB.

These EAB reforms are in line with the Trump Administration’s efforts to reform and modernize EPA which include:

  • A directive to end the controversial “sue and settle” practice which removes the ability of third party groups to circumvent the regulatory process and require the Agency to engage in actions without public comment.
  • Reforming EPA’s science advisory committees, to ensure independence, geographic diversity, integrity.
  • Implementing EPA’s Lean Management Systems and creating the Office of Continuous Improvement which measures progress made on 400 metrics and provides accountability to the public.
  • Realigning the Agency’s regional offices to ensure clarity and consistency in the Agency’s functions from Headquarters to the local level.
  • EPA also took steps to modernize and clear out our FOIA backlog. The steps the Trump Administration has taken will bring EPA into compliance with federal law and continue to be responsive to the public despite a 400% increase in FOIA requests since January 2017.

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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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