Elevated salinity and nitrates in surface water and groundwater are increasing problems affecting much of California, other western states, and arid regions throughout the world. Rising salt levels in the Central Valley threaten agricultural productivity and impact drinking water supplies. Recycled water is an essential new water source for the Central Valley but cannot be fully implemented unless salts and nutrients are carefully managed.
In 2006, the Central Valley Water Board, the State Water Board, and stakeholders began a joint effort to address the issues called the Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS), culminating in the adoption of a basin plan amendment in May of 2018 for the Nitrate Control Program and Salt Control Program developed through the CV-SALTS process.
The basin plan amendment was subsequently approved by the State Water Resources Control Board on October 16, 2019, becoming effective on January 17, 2020, and later approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in November of 2020. Notices to Comply for the Priority 1 areas in the Nitrate Control Program were sent to dischargers in May of 2020, with the Notices to Comply for the Salt Control Program following January 2021.
At the June 1 meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board, staff from the Central Valley Water Board updated the state board members on the implementation of the Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS) program focusing on the early action plans and the public comments received.
Anne Walters, senior environmental scientist at the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, began with a brief overview of the program.
The CV-SALTS program is comprised of two distinct programs, one to address nitrate contamination and the other to address salinity management.
The nitrate control program, shown on the left, is a prioritized program that addresses nitrate pollution in groundwater by focusing first on the areas in the valley that are most critically impacted and then followed by the lower priority areas. Permittees have a choice to follow an individual permitting approach with more stringent requirements, or they can choose to participate in a collective stakeholder-led effort called the management zone permitting approach.
The salt control program, shown on the right, is a phased program to address salinity impacts to both surface and ground waters. For the first phase of the program, permittees again are provided the option to choose one of two pathways: a conservative permitting approach that requires meeting stringent salinity limitations or participation in a region-wide stakeholder effort to develop a long-term sustainable salt management strategy.
Ms. Walters noted that addressing salt and nitrate issues in the Central Valley will take many decades. The diagram shows the timeline of 30 years. The nitrate control program is currently in its second year, right in the middle of the initial rollout of the priority one basins. Priority two basins are expected to be addressed in the second half of 2022, and non-prioritized areas will follow on a to-be-determined basis. The salt program is in the first ten-year phase, with two decade-long phases planned after that.
Salt control program
Phase one of the salt control program applies to all permitted dischargers of salt in the Central Valley region. Notice to Comply letters were sent out to over 3200 permittees on January 5 of this year; those permittees must respond with a notice of intent by July 15 of 2020.
After the notices went out, Central Valley Water Board was contacted via email and phone by hundreds of permittees uncertain what to do. To address the many questions, a webinar on the salt program was held with the Central Valley Salinity Coalition in February, as well as meetings and phone calls with permittees. They anticipate an uptick in the work in July when the permittees file their Notice of Intent forms and the salinity characterization reports from permittees if they choose the conservative pathway.
In March, the Central Valley Water Board approved the Prioritization and Optimization work plan (or PNO) submitted by the Central Valley Salinity Coalition, which is serving as the lead entity. The PNO study is the alternative permitting approach for phase one of the program.
The study is expected to last 10 to 15 years, during which it will define the salt-sensitive hydrologic regions, identify salinity sources and impacts, and develop conceptual projects for long-term salt management. The projects could include both physical and non-physical projects.
The study will establish a governance structure and funding plan, and ultimately, it will develop recommendations for phase two of the salt control program. Phase two is the design and approval for the salt management projects. Phase three is project implementation.
Nitrate control program
The map shows the prioritized areas in the Central Valley for the nitrate control program. Over 1200 Notice to Comply letters were sent out in May of 2020 to the priority areas, shown on the map in red. Phase two areas are anticipated to receive their Notice to Comply letters in 2022. The remaining areas shown in green will be phased in as needed.
So far, only 22 permittees, less than 2%, have chosen the individual permitting approach; staff is still evaluating the nitrate assessment report submitted for those permittees. About 84% of the remaining permittees have chosen to participate with their local management zone. The remaining 14% have not submitted a pathway choice; board staff will follow up on those.
Six groundwater basins have a priority one classification, and management zones have been created in those areas. High nitrates may impact an estimated 100,000 residents in the groundwater of these six basins.
Management zones have several deliverables to complete to meet the requirements of the nitrate control program. The first of these was the submittals of the preliminary management zone proposals and early action plans, which were submitted by March 8 of 2020. Implementation of the early action plans, which include providing testing and replacement drinking water to impacted residents, began on March 7.
The Central Valley Water Board held a public comment period and workshop on those plans a few months ago. The Central Valley Water Board subsequently sent out five conditional approval letters and one disapproval letter with a 60-day opportunity to cure to the management zones on May 7.
Following the Central Valley Water Board’s approval of the preliminary management zone proposals, the management zones will need to submit a final management zone proposal within six months, which is anticipated to be around the end of this year.
After the public comment period and approval of those plans, a management zone implementation plan will be due six months later. Those implementation plans will spell out those overall long-term plans on how the management zones will meet that 35-year deadline to comply with the nitrate objectives. They will serve as the primary avenue by which permits will be updated to incorporate the nitrate control program requirements.
Early action plan implementation activities include community outreach, such as webinars or visiting farmers’ markets and schools, well testing, providing interim safe drinking water to impacted residents, and strategies for working with communities at risk to ensure the long term success of the program.
The early action plans primarily focused on three interim drinking water solutions: bottled water delivery, water fill stations or kiosks, and point of use systems. Currently, there are six water fill stations in use, averaging about 480 gallons of water per day.
“As of this morning, I received information from the management zones that 110 wells have been tested since the implementation started less than a month ago, and there are more to be scheduled,” said Ms. Walters. “There’s more than 70 other applications in process and several 100 other inquiries that they’ve received. And bottled water delivery has started for the households in the area where the nitrate levels were above the objective.”
Public comments received on Preliminary Management Zone Proposals and Early Action Plans
Patrick Palupa began by noting that a lot of remarkable work has been done thus far to get to this point, even during the pandemic lockdown. “I think that’s a testament to the good faith of many people around the table, trying to work for collaborative solutions,” he said. “This implementation comes at a time when it is so badly needed in the middle of these drought conditions. I know many of our growers who are providing the resources for these programs are in very difficult situations because of the drought. And so we thank them for their continued involvement.”
There was a public comment period on the Preliminary Management Zone Proposals and Early Action Plans from March 14 to April 15, which occurred in the 60-day window after the plans were submitted to the regional board before the plans began implementation. A public virtual workshop was held on April 27, shortly before the plans were scheduled to be approved/disapproved.
Mr. Palupa then reviewed the comments received.
Improve public outreach and engagement
While it is acknowledged that the pandemic made stakeholder engagement more complicated, in-person efforts need to resume. This includes door-knocking campaigns, small community meetings, visiting farmers’ markets, and flyers at schools and other community gathering places.
More data transparency and accessibility to the information developed through the management zones and implementation plans
Mr. Palupa acknowledged that the regional board’s expectations for data transparency are high, including insisting that all data paid for by state resources are mandated through the CV-SALTS program go into GeoTracker.
“When we talk about data transparency, we talk about data transparency going up to databases that are universally accessible to researchers, to academics, to the public, and to other regulators, and I think that’s really going to be the default position as we move forward. It’s such a shared problem; there has to be shared access to the data so that we can understand the size and scope of it.”
The requirement for property owner consent for well testing
Mr. Palupa explained that requiring property owner consent is the traditional posture of the regional board because the regional board had to be able to back up these kinds of requests with the regulatory authority to do it itself if it needed to, which requires the Central Valley Water Board to get the property owner’s consent or a warrant to access a well for domestic well testing.
“I think that’s an evolving issue,” he said. “What our approval letters have said is that our enforcement division will keep tabs on any property owner that has not been responsive to requests by residents to have their well tested. So we can come in and do an enforcement action if need be to get a well tested if the property owner is unreasonably withholding permission to do so. As for unreasonably withholding, I don’t know any circumstance in which somebody serving water to their residents would be reasonably refusing to have their well tested. So we’ll keep tabs on all of that. Thus far, we have not been seeing many well owners denying that permission. So we’ll certainly keep track and report back to our board and then to you.”
Increased frequency of sampling
Some comments asked for increased frequency of sampling, with the thought that nitrate levels may fluctuate due to pumping, precipitation, or other changes, which might cause the well to exceed the threshold had some times of the year and not others.
Mr. Palupa explained that they have decided to prioritize getting as many wells sampled as possible, rather than mandating more frequent sampling. He noted that when a well tests high – at 7.5, the management zones will be offering to resample to ensure the well stays below the ten threshold, or if it is above the ten threshold, that replacement water will be provided. He also said they would look at the well data as it comes in, and if they notice seasonal trends, they will consider it at that time.
Increase the sampling protocols for other water quality constituents
There is a concern that if a well tests clean for nitrates, it creates a false sense of security that the well is good to use for drinking water. However, in many areas of the valley, multiple constituents could potentially harm people drinking that drinking water. To address this, Mr, Palupa said that a letter will be sent to the wells that are tested informing them that there could be additional harmful constituents present, so the letter recommends further testing and provides links to resources for that additional testing.
Reduce time for fill stations to be operational
Mr. Palupa noted that the drinking water fill stations, an interim measure, take a while to get up and running. “We need to make sure that when a fill station is installed in the community, that the fill station is safe and that the fill station follows all Division of Drinking Water rules and regulations about the way it is serving the water, and we want to make sure that those fill stations have community support. So we are trying to get operational as quickly as possible. But those timeframes are probably a few months at minimum to get those fill stations up and operational, simply because there’s a lot of engagement both with regulatory agencies with the county and with communities before they are installed.”
Continue to coordinate with the SAFER program
Several regulatory programs are operating within the same sphere, and Mr. Palupa said that there are many meetings with both SAFER and DDW to address the issues coming up. “Our coordination has included GSAs and a lot of other entities within the area. Not a week goes by that I don’t have a meeting with the SAFER program. The SAFER program is certainly a key component of our interactions. Many other folks are meeting even on a more frequent basis to make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts, we’re using limited resources wisely, and that we’re really getting the drinking water and testing out to the people that need it the most.”
More information on budgets and funding
Some commenters wanted more information on the budgets and funding from the management zones to ensure adequate budgets and funding are provided for the program. Mr. Palupa acknowledged it’s a tricky issue.
“For us, we’re going to be asking for additional transparency as these plans get operational and report to the regional board,” he said. “Bottom line, though, is that these plans have to be funded. If you have a plan that doesn’t budget for enough well testing or replacement water, you have to go out and make sure that that money becomes available through the folks that are working within your management zone. If you fail, if you only fund these plans at 80% 70% 50%, well then some of the permitting options, which are the carrots in this whole equation, get taken off the table, and you’re bounced into a traditional compliance mode. So a lot is at stake with making sure that the management zones continue to come up with the resources that they need to deliver on the promises that they’re making.”
Early action plan conditions
At this stage of the program, Mr. Palupa said they are approving early action plans with the idea that if the management zone does not execute the early action plans, they will not get access to the extended compliance timeframe offered by participating in the program to facilities, agricultural parcels, publicly owned treatment works into compliance.
The approval letter lays out in clear terms what the expectations are. One is to continue community engagement efforts and increase one-on-one communications with community members as the COVID-19 protocols lift.
Second, they want to ensure additional rigor is being placed in the wells sampling program as those numbers ramp up. Regional board staff will note any property owners who refuse permission for sampling and add them into a database maintained by the Regional Board’s enforcement division. Staff will also continue to get multi-constituent sampling protocols up and running so that wells are tested not just for nitrate but also for other potentially harmful water quality constituents. They also want to ensure that owners and residents are notified if there is a nitrate exceedance, and resources are provided on how to obtain replacement water as quickly as possible.
For transparency, the Regional Board wants to ensure the programs provide the data analysis and the underlying data and that it is made publicly available.
The approval letter also attempts to resolve the ambiguity in the basin plan amendment regarding when a point of use system could be used. “What the letters state is that you have to have multi constituent testing if you’re going to use a point of use system in a particular household,” said Mr. Palupa. “There’s no point treating for nitrate and saying everything is all good if the point of use system is not treating for water quality constituents that are posing potentially even greater threat than nitrates at the tap; that includes arsenic, radio nucleotides, a bunch of other water quality constituents. So to use a point of use system, you have to do the full suite of water quality constituent testing.”
The expectation is that financial reporting will increase as the plans are implemented. Staff is currently discussing with the management zones how the financial information reported is transparent to ensure a viable set of resources available to pay for all the things they are promising. And lastly, the management zones need to be reporting very clearly to Regional Board about the current status of their implementation efforts.
Mr. Palupa presented a chart to illustrate that many water quality constituents other than nitrate could potentially pose a risk to human health. The chart on the slide lists the top five in the management zones that could potentially be present in individual domestic wells.
“We want to make sure that all of these issues are addressed, even though the nitrate control program is uniquely focused on nitrate because again, as a discharge permitting agency, that’s the constituent that is in the discharge,” he said. “Many of these others are either historical artifacts such as with 123 TCP or are naturally occurring, as is the case with arsenic, uranium, and some of the other water quality constituents out there.”
STATE BOARD CO-FUNDING AND COORDINATION
Joe Karkoski, State Board Assistant Deputy Director, noted that since there are other water quality constituents of concern, they want to take advantage of opportunities to sample for other constituents as well when the wells are tested for nitrate. So they are considering what is a fair and appropriate way to split the cost.
For initial outreach, the current proposal is to split the cost evenly between the Division of Financial Assistance at the State Board and the management zones. At that point, it is not known what contaminants might be at elevated levels.
For domestic well sampling costs, the current proposal is for the management zones to provide funding for the general sampling costs and any costs specific to nitrate, and the State Board would fund any incremental increase in costs for other constituents of concern.
For the interim solutions, if the only constituent of concern is nitrate that’s exceeding that maximum contaminant level, then the management zone would provide the funding. If the nitrate is not at that level of concern, then DFA or the state board provides the funding. The cases where nitrate and other constituents of concern are at elevated levels would have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The State Board has constraints on what they can be allowed to fund. “The regulatory program has a broader perspective in terms of providing well sampling and solutions, regardless of income level, whereas a lot of our funding sources are defined more narrowly,” said Mr. Karkoski. “For example, to target disadvantaged communities or low income households, especially with the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, that’s tied into the funding restrictions associated with the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.”
In terms of well sampling, their current thinking is that if the community has an annual median household income that meets the disadvantaged community definition, then we would provide funding for the costs for all other constituents except nitrates. For interim solutions, in order to provide bottled water or a point of use or point of entry system, more information would be needed regarding the income level for that particular household.
An approach for co-funding might be that a non-profit partner could apply on behalf of the management zones, who would have a separate agreement with the management zones in terms of administration, then the cofunding would come from the State Board. The management zones could also work directly with the State Board.
Mr. Karkowski acknowledged that the funding agreements take time to figure out the parameters and get into place. In the interim, the management zones are provided with contact information with Self Help Enterprises, a local non-profit that serves several counties in the Central Valley, to do well sampling and provide interim solutions. The State Board has funded several programs to test wells, install point of use or point of entry devices to treat contaminants, and provide regional bottled water programs.
The map shows the map of the service area for Self Help overlaid with the CV-SALTS management zones. “As the management zones are implementing their program, coordination with Self Help will be really critical and important,” said Mr. Karkoski. “As I understand, they are getting inquiries already, which is encouraging.”
BOARD DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS
State Board Chair Joaquin Esquivel asked about the point of use systems treating for multiple contaminants. “Doesn’t that really shift the point of use discussion to again, this integrated space between SAFER and the CV-SALTS program? The point of use and point of entry systems are a space that can continue to innovate and provide solutions because longer-term solutions or the larger built infrastructure solutions take years. So point of use solutions are an important bridge. … Do you have any thoughts in that space between the two programs for we might see the work ahead?”
“Point of use systems are a tool in the toolbox, but we hear from the management zones that the preference for replacement water tends to be bottled water,” said Mr. Palupa. “So we wouldn’t assist in a specific point-of-use system where nitrate is the constituent of concern. And we would be requesting that there be a robust management program in place to make sure that the filters are addressed very quickly. For point-of-use systems, you have to have property owner permission because you are changing the plumbing system, and there are very few rental agreements that allow that to move forward, absent a property owner agreement. So I think it’s a tool within our toolkit. But I think in terms of the quickest tools to deploy, it’s usually bottled water.”
“As we see more providers step up and say, we have the maintenance program, here’s our track record, we go in, we make sure that these filters are deployed. Some of them have a lighting system that lets users know the filter needs to be replaced and never let a light go red. Those kinds of discussions are things that we’re continuing to talk with the management zones about. I think that there are situations where they work well and situations in which they don’t. But all of that presupposes the maintenance plan in place and that the burden isn’t on the resident to swap it out. You need to really make sure that somebody is coming in and doing the work and logging the work responsibly.”
Board member Sean Maguire asked about the numbers with respect to the million Californians without access to safe and reliable drinking water. “What is the portion of that population that’s impacted that CV-SALTS is responsible for? I’m trying to figure out what is that benchmark that I measure progress against, and how much farther do we need to go in the coming years.”
Mr. Palupa said that within the six management zones in the priority one basins, it’s estimated about 103,000 people are affected. It ranges from the Chowchilla management zone, where probably only about 400 people are impacted by nitrates, upwards to Turlock, where the estimate is around 37,000. In the Kings Basin, 47,000 residents are potentially affected. For the others, Kaweah has 3000, Modesto has 4000, and Tulare around 10,000.
Board member Maguire said he’s concerned about the folks living in homes where the property owner has declined to have the wells tested. “I want to make sure that they can receive bottled water or to receive sampling, even if it’s at their tap or, or otherwise, while you’re working through the collaborative or the enforcement processes against property owners. So I’m hoping you could speak to a little bit of that, so we can ensure that folks are interested in getting their wells sampled or are concerned about the quality of their water and have resources available to them.”
Mr. Palupa reminded that the requiring permission of the property owners is related to the Central Valley Water Board’s regulatory authority. “We’re doing as much as we can, which is projecting and saber rattling and saying, look, if you want the enforcement resources in the Central Valley Water Board bearing down upon you, it is not going to be a comfortable endeavor, and you’re probably going to come out with the short stick … We have a stepwise process that we can utilize to get to that end result. But that usually will mean that the property owner will bear the burden of ultimately paying for that, and potentially could get roped into the entire program, whereas just allowing access to the well to be sampled is really a lot easier for everybody. … There’s no law that basically says you are required, as a landowner, to sample your well if you’re going to rent it out to somebody to make sure that you’re not poisoning them. … I don’t know if I have a great answer for you there. except to say that we’re strategizing the best we can and trying to make sure that we get what’s needed to be done as quickly as possible.”
Board member Laurel Firestone mentioned a letter sent by Self Help Enterprises to the State Water Board, the regional water boards, and the management zones saying they are declining to provide services and listed many concerns. One of the main concerns was the administrative coordination that is burdensome, as well as the drought impacting a lot of wells with very low water levels. Have you identified any strategies for addressing these capacity limitations?
“The way I understood that letter was the capacity limitations aren’t necessarily around fulfilling their current obligations to us, where we already have existing funding agreements,” said Mr. Karkoski. “It’s formally taking on additional roles with the five or six additional management zones that becomes really challenging administratively. If people’s wells are running dry, obviously, there’s not much to sample, and you want to focus on getting them hauled water. So as we move forward through the summer, we’ll certainly be talking to Self Help about how to triage between those competing needs and demands. … We may collectively need to kind of change our expectations a bit. We’re very hopeful that we’d be able to do a lot of domestic wall sampling just under the Self Help Enterprises program and then deploy point of use or point of entry and bottled water, where needed, but of course, they’re going to prioritize if people just don’t have water.”
PUBLIC COMMENT HIGHLIGHTS
COMMENT: Ngodoo Atume with Clean Water Action ... ” on coordination with the state programs, we continue to be concerned about the lack of coordination between these programs; management zones have begun implementing their well testing, which unfortunately includes testing for only the nitrates. Now, the BPA is clear that management zones are only responsible for nitrate testing and the costs associated with nitrate-contaminated drinking water. We are concerned that some residents impacted by other contaminants may get a false sense of security, that their water is safe for drinking. I want to highlight that there’s an urgency to see this coordination happening, bearing in mind that at the other end, there are people that are drinking contaminated water and using that water with their families and with their children. We believe that it’s to the success of good programs that this testing happens simultaneously and definitely benefits impacted residents … Because of the potential for nitrate concentration variability, there needs to be more frequent follow-up testing, where wells are very close to the MCU or above 7.5 milligrams per liter. Relying upon trend data or testing wells one year after initial tests is insufficient and puts communities at risk.”
COMMENT: Debbie Orr, Community Water Center on community engagement. “The management zones have put in some effort on engagement and acknowledging that COVID restrictions have made it more difficult, there are quite a number of ways that the management zones can be doing more even with COVID restrictions. Unfortunately, many are relying a little too heavily on electronic engagement, or at least noticing. We’ve seen that some management zones will ask if they should be noticing meetings via social media and emails, ignoring that public spaces are still being accessed by people and that public spaces should be where notices of meetings are still being posted. “
“In most instances, they have been very receptive to us bringing up those comments, but it is something that we have to keep bringing up that not everybody has access to the internet or regularly checks the internet for issues such as a safe drinking water program. So we need to be seeing more mailers – some of the management zones have not even done mailers yet, or they’re planning to send out mailers soon. So it’s really kind of behind where we should be right now. These plans really should have been created in conjunction with communities rather than solutions being developed and hoping that they work for communities.”
PUBLIC COMMENT: Michael Prado, resident of Tulare County regarding incentives for stakeholder participation. “I think it is important to highlight the fact that community member engagement is central to the success of the Early Action Plans, and community members’ participation is expected, despite the fact we are not being paid to engage in things like advisory committee meetings. … Processes like this often do a poor job of including community members and incorporating our concerns and feedback. This is why I tried to participate when I can; however, participating in these processes can take a significant amount of time. I am not participating as part of my job. I have other commitments … Incentives like a stipend for participating in the Advisory Committee could help residents from disadvantaged communities members who are being asked to do this work for free, despite the fact that we’re supposed to be central to the process, and our involvement as required by law regulation.”
PUBLIC COMMENT: TESS DUNHAM, an attorney with Kahn, Soares, and Conway, discussed some of the challenges of the management zones. She began by acknowledging the significant efforts of the management zones to get up and running in a short amount of time. “In all of the development of the six management zones now up and running, the significant effort and involvement has been great across the board with food processors and wineries and POTWs, but in all of the management zones, 80% of it is probably on the backs of irrigated ag and dairies. We have proven over the years in our irrigated lands program and in our dairy program that we do step up and self-fund, and I’ve never short-shifted those programs in implementing them. So I think our track record and showing how we’ve implemented these programs hopefully will go a long way when we talk about budgeting. We’ve been able to prove that we have the mechanism through either acreage or per dairy fees to fund these very large programs in the Central Valley.”
“But we see where we have this sometimes a divergence of potential policy: Self Help through the SAFER program, and the nitrate and the management zones have different expectations. And through the SAFER program, there are income eligibility requirements that we don’t have with the nitrate program. And so, as we talk about coordination between the programs, which we agree is absolutely essential, I think we need to have some discussions about some of these key policy issues. It makes it very difficult for a nitrate management zone to go out to do well testing for co-contaminants and say, ‘you don’t meet an income restriction, I can only test for nitrate, I can’t test for the other constituents.’ So we may want to think about how do we do that? Should we have income risk restrictions, at least on the sampling side? It does make it very difficult for a management zone to think about bringing in co-contaminant testing, if they have to then say to the resident, I can only sample for one constituent because you don’t meet the eligibility requirement for multiple constituents.”
“Similarly, we run into some of the same conflicts when we talk about the difference between the need for transparency of public data and the need for privacy concerns. Board member McGuire, you made a comment about wanting to make sure that tenants can have their wells tested. If we test that well, we have to post it the result on GeoTracker. And a management zone is going to be very uncomfortable with posting a result on GeoTracker with the latitude and longitude specifically called out if the owner of that well has no idea that has been tested, and it’s now part of a public database.”
BOARD MEMBER FIRESTONE spoke to the need to support the management zones in addressing more than just nitrate contamination. She noted that it was the leaders who were part of CV-SALTS and leaders in the agricultural and dairy communities that worked with the environmental justice organizations and others to get the SAFER program passed. “That is huge, and I think it indicates a common goal and investment and ensuring that everyone can access safe drinking water, and that we all are partners and trying to get that to happen. … We’ve talked about the limitations of just capacity to do the work. Self Help Enterprises is amazing, and they’re doing vital work, but it can’t all be on one organization alone. And so, I appreciate those management zones that are actively working with the SAFER program to see if they might be able to step up to provide some of those services directly. If we can partner and provide some support for that … a significant limiting factor for accomplishing the scope of what we want to do is, is just having enough people are going out to sample and get people enrolled … the management zones don’t have an obligation to do all of that, but I know they share the same goals in terms of ensuring people on safe drinking water, and that we want to be a partner in that.”
“It’s in everyone’s interest, certainly, the SAFER programs, certainly the management zones, certainly the GSAs and communities to accelerate those long-term solutions, and make sure that individual residents don’t have to rely on bottled water deliveries forever. And that’s really is an area of alignment in terms of all of our goals and interests. I just really encourage us to partner in accelerating those solutions as well and find opportunities to do that. There’s such an exciting momentum and potential and already early signs of commitment that have been shown with management zones to make this successful. I want to make sure that we’re building on that and emphasize how important that’s going to be for our shared success, especially with the SAFER programs and the state’s overall goals.”
“The management zones are looking at this proposed co-funding matrix, and if a Self Help Enterprise-type organization capacity wise isn’t going to work, how can the management zone become a sister type of organization doing that?” said Tess Dunham. “To be honest, I think we need to find ways to incentivize a management zone to take on more than just nitrate because under the basin plan amendment. They have one area that they are required to address … if there is a way with the cost-sharing to make it more of an incentive for the management zones, it might be easier for us to convince them about the need and the benefit of the management zones doing so. And some of that might be that by doing the whole contaminant testing, we’ll have a better idea what the problem is upfront, so then we can accelerate what those potential longer-term solutions are.”
COMMENT: Michael Claiborne, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, was concerned with the requirement for landlord consent. “Without access to well testing, tenants are at risk of exposure to unsafe drinking water, and a requirement for landlord consent reduces access to well testing. So we remain concerned that restricting well testing those properties where landlord approval is obtained will, in practice, preclude many residents from accessing drinking water solutions that work best for them. There are many reasons why someone may be unable to obtain landlord approval – their landlord may be completely unresponsive, or a landlord may refuse to allow well testing out of concern, I think unjustified, that well test showing unsafe water will result in lower property values. A resident may even be reluctant to ask for permission to test the well out of fear of retaliation or eviction. We need a comprehensive testing program that allows anyone who is certified domestic well or state small water systems have their water tested to determine the safety of the water coming into their homes. We remain unaware of any specific legal restriction on funding well testing when a tenant with the right of access is granted permission. At a minimum, there must be an alternate procedure for tenants that do not have landlord approval. For example, test kits dropped off at certain labs with testing paid for by the management zone.”