Newsletter, May 2012: State promotes “toilet to tap”

Dear RRWPC Supporter:

State water shortages motivate promotion of “toilet to tap”…..
In their concern about future water shortages expected from global warming and rapidly diminishing water resources, especially in Southern California, California officials are fast tracking legislation that will reuse vast amounts of treated wastewater.

Rather than focusing on stringent water conservation policies, a cheaper and much safer approach, State officials are focusing on potable and non-potable reuse of treated sewage. They want to discharge it into in our drinking water supplies and apply much larger amounts to our agricultural fields and urban landscapes. It is unclear at this point whether our waterways will be adequately protected from the runoff of massive applications. There will be very limited public review of these practices and in light of heavy cutbacks of regulatory staff, it is questionable that oversight of human and environmental health will be adequate.

In Southern California they are considering the placement of very highly treated wastewater directly into the drinking water supply and/or groundwater used for drinking water supply. In other areas, such as ours, where treatment levels are much lower, it will be applied to agricultural lands, golf courses, and landscape vegetation. This is not necessarily bad, if done appropriately and with great care not to cause runoff into our creeks and streams. Unfortunately, we demonstrated that is seldom the case.

In our most recent mailer letter, RRWPC described wastewater irrigation runoff in Santa Rosa. On numerous occasions in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, we have noted over spray running off into storm drains, saturating parked cars and bus stop benches, and pooled water in areas where children and adults are likely to be exposed. Contaminents that have been applied to landscapes including pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and various soil amendments rich with nutrients and chemical residues runs off along with the wastewater. Potential health impacts of this contaminated water could be huge.

Bill introduced by Huffman, fast tracks massive changes in California water law….
AB 2398, co-sponsored by Assemblymen Jared Huffman and Ben Hueso, both of the Assembly’s Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee, is a 69 page bill designed to facilitate the State of California’s goal to reuse 1.5 million acre feet of wastewater of varying treatment levels by 2020 and 2.5 million by 2030 (325,000 gallons per acre foot). RRWPC has expressed serious concerns about parts of this legislation, so far to little avail.

AB 2398 is a lengthy and very complex bill and there are many parts we can not address. Much of the Bill is pointed towards incorporating the most highly treated wastewater, where all contaminents are supposedly stripped out, and put back into the drinking water supply. These systems are very expensive, but desireable in desert areas. They are unlikely to be implemented in our area because of the great cost, and northern water availability, while stressed at times, is not nearly the problem as in the South. Yet such systems are not totally out of the question, and this legislation encourages this approach.

This is an ambitious bill that will merge the requirements of four different water, health, and governmental codes, and also minimize regulation of summer irrigation runoff. The bill was actually written by Dr. David Smith as director of WateReuse California, a professional organization representing mostly water and wastewater utilities (including Sonoma County Water Agency). Dr. Smith has been consulting with the City of Santa Rosa non-stop for about 25 years (sole source contracts) and is currently responsible for ushering them through their wastewater discharge permit renewal process with the North Coast Regional Board. Over the years, Dr. Smith has fought incessently for higher river discharges, increased design capacity, lower standards, and diminished monitoring requirements. His close involvement with this Bill has given a public perception of a serious conflict of interest.

Major concerns about AB 2398……
While we do not oppose all recycled water use, great harm will occur if this new Bill is approved as written. It also overlooks impacts to aquatic life. Here are major issues:
• Tertiary wastewater is lumped in with “purified” water in terms of declassifying it as a “waste”. That could result in minimally controlled and poorly regulated runoff to streams which would further degrade our already impaired waterways.
• New scientific studies indicate that very low doses of endocrine disruptors (e.d.’s) in the parts per trillion range can have significant detrimental effects on human and wildlife health. Extensive studies have identified about 870 chemicals as e.d.’s. This Bill appears to eliminate monitoring for such chemicals.
• Reporting limits of irrigation runoff of tertiary wastewater appears NOT to be required until 50,000 gallons has been discharged IN EACH INCIDENT! Even if 1000 gallons is adopted, that is still too much for urban irrigation areas.
• By focusing on Department of Health Services oversight, it appears as though the public will have few opportunities to give meaningful input on individual projects through a fully vetted public review process. This causes great concern.
• Conduct statewide series of workshops to educate public on this Bill before authorization.
One very important improvement can be made to AB 2398 that would address many of our concerns: require the use of drip irrigation systems instead of spray. PLEASE MAIL ENCLOSED TARGET LETTERS EXPRESSING CONCERN ABOUT BILL.
Estuary Project Legal Update…….
RRWPC is still negotiating a settlement proposal with Sonoma County Water Agency over the Estuary Project.. Hopefully we will have more news in our next mailer coming out in mid-July. If a settlement agreement is not reached, the case is scheduled to be heard on October 5th. We’ll keep you posted.

RRCSD protest deadline for fee increase May 21st….
Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) ratepayers received a bright orange notice about the 2012 fee hike (to $1211). Ratepayers can stop these hikes if half signed protest forms for every property owned and mail them back to the return address on the form. If half of the parcel owners did this (plus one), the County could not raise the fees. Please help stop these yearly increases. (You just have to sign each form, you don’t have to give reasons for opposing increase.) There will be a hearing on these fees at the Board of Supervisors Chambers on May 22, 2012 at 10 am or after. Call (707) 526-5370 for more information.

RRWPC needs your continued support!
RRWPC is very short of funds for our lawsuit against the Water Agency regarding approval of the Estuary Project. We have written extensively about that case. We also need support in our battle against this legislation. Please give as generously as you can, especially if you have not given in awhile. Also, please pass this information on to other interested parties. For further information you can contact us at You can also donate via PayPal.