Amendment To Basin Plan: Comments

February 15, 2011

To:  State Water Resources Control Board


Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on this North Coast Basin Plan Amendment.  As you may know, RRWPC has provided extensive comments on this action and related issues, including extensive comments on the State’s Recycled Water Policy, the Landscape Policy, and the North Coast Board’s MS4 (Storm Water) Permit process.

I have read the January 13th Notice on the Opportunity to Comment, the Staff Report, and the Resolution No. R1-2009-0004, concerning this issue.  I appreciate that staff have attempted to address our concerns.  I understand that this action is primarily based on the fact that other Regions allow low threat discharges year round and our North Coast Basin Plan does not.  A major goal of this Amendment is bring our Region in line with others statewide.

RRWPC does not agree with this rationale and prefers that our Region be allowed to implement a higher standard. For many years, summer discharge has been prohibited in our watershed.  We live in an area of very high recreational use; human contact with the local waterways is widespread; and public awareness of water quality issues is very high. The people who live and recreate here have a long history of supporting clean water and are concerned that this new policy may have a detrimental effect.

Wastewater reuse…..
We also understand that another impetus for this action is the need to recycle and reuse wastewater because of dire water shortages, which are far worse in some parts of the State than others.  There has been great pressure to use recycled wastewater to extend the water resources of the state. While we have some issues with water shortages in more heavily populated Sonoma County, our North Coast situation is far less dire than other areas of the state in this regard.

We believe that this one-size-fits-all irrigation policy should be replaced by more stringent conservation policies including LID programs, drainage programs to keep natural water on site, and innovative and creative technologies to solve water shortage problems.  For example, getting creative with the use of waterless toilets, would be much preferable over reliance on toilet-to-tap programs.

We know the state has done a great deal in regard to residential conservation, but very little has been done with agricultural conservation, users of about 80% of the water.  Yet in the long run, saving water will save far more money and be far more sustainable than encouraging the production of wastewater to provide for irrigation of lawns, golfing greens, and parks.  As we learn more about the unregulated toxins in wastewater, and as State budget problems become more severe, it only makes sense to think in terms of a water budget that stays within our means.

In 2009, a dry year, our Sonoma County community proved they could cut their water use by 15-20%.  Yet in 2010, when reservoirs (and waterways) were full from extensive spring rains, water use increased about 9%.  The pressure from officials had been relaxed and attitudes changed. Conservation needs to be a full time effort.  Our water needs have far outstripped our ability to supply.  If we could just convince water users to eliminate lawns, much of the problem would be solved.  And if growers could learn more about the benefits of dry farming, we would all be in much better shape.

Incidental runoff is great concern…..
Of all the topics in this Amendment, the issue we are most concerned about, as we are reminded in your documents, is incidental runoff of irrigated wastewater.  This is the area where the Regional Board has the least control.  We have witnessed first hand the carelessness of irrigators, especially when they think no one is looking.  We are also concerned about the lack of direct oversight by enforcement personnel, and the reliance on layered contracts between the discharger, contractor, and irrigator. 

We have seen one example where an irrigation contract between permit holder and irrigator resulted in non-oversight and non-compliance for 15 years, until a citizen made a formal complaint.  Since most citizens don’t know about these agreements and since Regional Board staff don’t have the resources to over see them directly, things fall by the wayside.  Furthermore, no citizen can differentiate potable water from wastewater and signs are no longer required.  Actually, people should be warned about sites where wastewater is being used.

Health issues downplayed…
We are concerned that this Amendment encourages widespread irrigation with wastewater in areas that are pollution sensitive. We are concerned that people have been mislead about the safety of wastewater irrigation and that certain scientists are promoting the safety of the product, as others encourage actions based on the Precautionary Principle (i.e. need to prove safety before use rather than the reverse).

Too little is known about approximately 80,000 unregulated chemicals in use today, including those in pharmaceuticals and personal care products.  Furthermore, there is one other toxin that never gets talked about, and it’s one with which I have personal experience.  That’s spread of nuclear materials into wastewater from medical procedures. We’ll discuss that further down this letter.

The 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel states on page 97 in its conclusions:  (ATTACHMENT #1)

“We Need to Determine the Full Extent of Environmental Influences on Cancer” and “At this time, we do not know how much environmental exposures influence cancer risk and related immune and endocrine dysfunction.  Environmental contamination varies greatly by type and magnitude across the nation, and the lifetime effects of exposure to combinations of chemicals and other agents are largely unstudied.  Similarly, the cancer impact of exposures during key ‘windows of vulnerability’ such as the prenatal period, early life, and puberty are not well understood.  Nonetheless, while these diverse effects often are difficult to quantify with exiting technologies and research methods, in a great many instances, we know enough to act.”  (emphasis added)

And further, “The Nation Needs a Comprehensive, Cohesive Policy Agenda Regarding Environmental Contaminants and Protection of Human Health” and, “Environmental health, including cancer risk, has been largely excluded from overall national policy on protecting and improving the health of Americans.  It is more effective to prevent disease than to treat it, but cancer prevention efforts have focused narrowly on smoking, other lifestyle behaviors, and chemo-preventive interventions.  Scientific evidence on individual and multiple environmental exposure effects on disease initiation and outcomes, and consequent health system and societal costs are not being adequately integrated into national policy decisions and strategies for disease prevention, health care access, and health system reform.”

In June, 2009, the Endocrine Society published a scientific paper entitled, “Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals”.  The introductory page listed the following key points that we should be aware of about these unregulated and complex substances.  While we realize the State has established an expert panel to address these issues, our impression of some of the initial findings is that they are downplaying the seriousness of the problem.  (ATTACHMENT #2)
Key Points

• An endocrine-disrupting substance is a compound, either natural or synthetic, which through environmental or inappropriate developmental exposures alters the hormonal and homeostatic systems that enable the organism to communicate with and respond to its environment.

• Issues key to understanding the mechanisms of action and consequences of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals include age at exposure, latency from exposure, the mixture of chemicals, dose-response dynamics, and long-term latent effects.

• Because of the shared properties of the chemicals and the similarities of the receptors and enzymes involved in the synthesis, release, and degradation of hormones, no endocrine system is immune to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

• Effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals may be transmitted to further generations through germline epigenetic modifications or from continued exposure of offspring to the environ- mental insult.

• The evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals is strong, and there is mounting evidence for effects on other endocrine systems, including thyroid, neuroendocrine, obesity and metabolism, and insulin and glucose homeostasis.

• The Precautionary Principle is key to enhancing endocrine and reproductive health, and should be used to inform decisions about exposure to, and risk from, potential endocrine disruptors.

• Scientific societies such as The Endocrine Society should partner with other organizations with the scientific and medical expertise to evaluate effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in humans.

Of particular concern to RRWPC is the legalization of incidental runoff of wastewater in the summer time. Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and Cotati drains end up in the Laguna de Santa Rosa, a highly impaired water body.  Notably, the Regional Board has begun an effort to identify nutrient and bacteriological source inputs in order to remedy the problem, but this is not the time to add a new source.

I have nothing but praise for the North Coast Board and Staff.  They have worked very hard under extremely difficult budgetary constraints.  I am sure that the same is true for State Board staff as well.  But the truth is that there are not nearly enough people on hand, especially enforcement workers, to do the job right.  It’s likely that, in spite of the best of intentions, human error will prevail and runoff will become commonplace.  I am similarly concerned that the standards outlined in this amendment are unachievable without more manpower to oversee activities.

Our local creeks are being choked with invasive plants whose growth is encouraged by conditions conducive to their spread such as the addition of nutrients to warm, low flowing, sediment filled, waterways. (Ludwigia picture: ATTACHMENT #3)  In fact, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, tributary to the Russian River, is listed under 303(d) as impaired for sediment, temperature, DO, nitrogen, phosphorus, and mercury.  It should also be listed for invasive plants.

A recent UC Davis study, commissioned by the North Coast Board, based on winter samples only, also pointed out the vast amount of bacteria entering the surface water from urban runoff.  They will be conducting monitoring this summer to learn about summer bacteriological contributions.  Any small addition can have additive effects.

The wastewater irrigation run off by itself will not only contaminate our streams during heavy recreation use, but it will bring with it a slew of soil amendments, pesticides, herbicides, and whatever chemicals they put on their lawns and gardens to grow and protect their plants.  They may also bring us toxic blue green algae, because prime conditions will exist to help it grow.

For a long time, we wondered how the term “incidental runoff” would be defined. We asked that question numerous times.  And now we know.  The City of Healdsburg was the first to have their NPDES permit renewed since the new MS4 Permit went into effect.  Under this permit, so called low threat discharges are allowed.  Yet, there are many more opportunities for control of the “low threat” discharges, because they are pre-arranged and planned for.  It is the surprise nature of incidental runoff that will cause the most damage.

And users of wastewater for irrigation under the City of Healdsburg can self-report up to 1000 gallons.  That means the fox guarding the chicken house can cause 1000 gallons worth of damage before they are required to say a word.  And who will know if they spill 1100 or 1500 gallons?  If it’s on an ag field and no one sees it happen, how will they know when it hits 1100 or 1200 or more?  Who will know when it runs into a waterway and then downstream?  Healdsburg City staff are resistant to over seeing the vineyard managers who threaten to not irrigate with wastewater if the City imposes any heavy rules on them.

New Water Quality Concerns….
We have another water quality issue which we have never heard anyone bring up.  It is possible that there is radioactive waste in this wastewater that will be sprayed all over!

I have personal knowledge of the medical procedure that involves thyroid cancer patients ingesting a radio-active cocktail to remove thyroid cancer cells in their bodies.

In the 1970’s a patient having this procedure would be quarantined for about three days in a hospital room. Very few people would be allowed in (no visitors) and those who came to provide services stayed briefly and wore gowns and gloves that were promptly stored to avoid all contact with other clothes, equipment, etc.

The patient was told that everything touched would become radioactive and would have to be stored safely somewhere for about 40 years afterward. (That’s how long it took to lose its radioactivity.)  Disposable gloves were mandatory at all times.  At the end of the treatment a Geiger counter would be used to check all items used by the patient, and anything that registered would be confiscated forever, to be stored with the other contaminated items.

The patient was told that they saved and stored all bath water, all urine and excrement, toothbrushes and spit, linens, gowns, gloves, and anything touched.  At the end of the three days, there was a test to see if all of the material had been released from the body and a Geiger counter used to check every personal item before release.  This was how they did it 36 years ago.

We recently learned about how they do it now.  I am enclosing a letter from Edward J. Markey, Congressman from Massachusetts and member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.  His letter addresses the manner in which radioactive patients are now released from hospitals.  He reports findings by the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment staff concerning the way that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates and oversees this release process.  (ATTACHMENT #4)

The letter states:  “The subcommittee’s investigation, which drew from a survey of more than 1,000 thyroid cancer survivors’ experiences, indicates that there is a strong likelihood that members of the public have been unwittingly exposed to radiation from patients who are discharged after being treated with radioisotopes, and that this has occurred because of weak NRC regulations, ineffective oversight of those who administer these medical treatments, and the absence of clear guidance to patients and to physicians that provide procedures to ensure that such exposures do  not occur.

As you know, in 1997, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), in response to a proposal initiated by its own staff, weakened its rules surrounding the release of patients treated with radioactive iodine.  The rules were changed from the prior practice—still followed in Europe and other countries – which requires the hospitalization of patients emitting high levels of radiation in order to protect children and other members of the public from being irradiated, to one that allows most treatments to be performed on a less expensive outpatient basis.”

The letter goes on to detail how most states apply the new rules, which is pretty laxly enforced in most locations.  The main concern of the letter is that many people, not wanting to risk contaminating their homes and families, rather go to hotels or motels and end up contaminating the general public instead.

What is NOT addressed in the letter is the fate of the radioactive bodily fluids that end up in the waste system.  I have never, in the 31 years I have been tracking wastewater water issues have heard a discussion on this topic.  I did not raise it myself because I was not aware of the new way of dealing with patients in these circumstances.

So my questions are: What happens to the radioactive wastewater?  What kinds of tests of this radioactivity are being conducted to assure it is not spread around indiscriminately? How are people, including treatment plant workers, assured that they are not exposed to this material at work?  Is a Geiger counter ever used to test the water? Has anyone ever studied the cancer rates of sewage treatment workers?  I’m sure that more questions will come up on this issue once people learn about it.

In the meantime, why not institute the Precautionary Principle before we destroy our environment?  I include the definitions with links as ATTACHMENT #5.  While all of the principles apply to this situation, I mention just two to give a flavor of what is meant.

Where significant environmental damage may occur, but the knowledge on the matter is incomplete, decisions made and measures implemented should err on the side of caution.”  And

The best environmental policy is to protect the environmental systems as a priority, in particular where the results of an action/procedure are unknown.”

In closing, I would appreciate your addressing these important issues.  I have seen nothing to assure me that the Amendment you are contemplating is completely safe.  I don’t know if there is any safe way of allowing incidental runoff and assuring that it will be managed in the fashion that is conceived in this Amendment.

I again urge the state to focus on critical water conservation measures instead and forget about encouraging the generating of wastewater to serve their water needs.  It will be much cheaper and safer in the long run.

Most sincerely,

Brenda Adelman

Russian River Watershed Protection Committee

CC: Catherine Kuhlman


List of Attachments:

  • Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk:  What We Can Do Now” 2008-09 Annual Report of President’s Cancer Panel; US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute; LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. M.D.: Chair of Cancer Panel, Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D., Vivian L. Smith Chair and Professor Emerita: University of Texas
  • “Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals”, Diamanti-Kandarakis E. et al. 2009 Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals:  an endocrine Society Scientific Statement.  Endocrine Reviews 30(4): 293-342
  • RRWPC 2009 Photo Project and one picture of Russian River taken in July, 2010 from a private residence one mile west of Monte Rio.
  • Oct. 20, 2010 letter from Congressman Edward J. Markey, Chairman, Energy and Environment Subcommittee to Honorable Greg Jaczko, Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Definitions with links of Precautionary Principle found on the web