AB 803: New Recycled Water Bill

Revised Copy of Letter sent to State Parks, Water, and Wildlife Committee

April 1, 2013

Dear Assembly Member Rendon and Members of State Parks, Water, and Wildlife Committee :

My name is Brenda Adelman and I am commenting on Assembly Bill 803 which will be heard by your Committee tomorrow.  Last year I commented extensively on AB 2398.  (This letter is based on Feb. 21, 2013 version of AB 803.)

I represent Russian River Watershed Protection Committee, a nonprofit group that has been in existence since 1980 in Sonoma County.  We are most concerned about preserving water quality in the lower Russian River, an impaired water body, and its major tributary, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, an even more impaired water body.

These water bodies are impaired by nutrients, temperature, sediments, dissolved oxygen (Laguna only), bacteria, and more.  The Regional Board is in the process of developing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL’s) for pathogens, temperature,  and nutrients.  The City of Santa Rosa’s Draft NPDES Permit requires the City to have no net discharge of nutrients into receiving waters.  Local cities that irrigate with wastewater frequently have runoff going into impaired streams.  (We have seen hundreds of photographs of Santa Rosa’s and Rohnert Park’s irrigation runoff in Regional Board files.)

One of our greatest concerns about AB 803 is that the reporting of spills is only required after the discharge of 50,000 gallons or more.  This seems a direct contradiction to both the Recycled Water Policy, which allows only ‘incidental runoff’,  defined as only occasional runoff that results strictly from accidents that are not a result of neglect and also contradicts our local Basin Plan.  In other words, there seems to be some strong inconsistencies in the law that should be resolved in this legislation.

Furthermore, I was struck by the strong requirements to prevent cross connection between the potable drinking water and the recycled water, where the latter is defined as, “…any source or system containing unapproved water or a substance that is not or cannot be approved as safe, wholesome, and potable.” (Page 3: lines 36-39).

It then goes on to state (Page 4, line 15)  in (i) “Recycled water” is a wastewater which as a result of treatment is suitable for beneficial uses.”   This implies that recycled water is suitable for drinking water, which is not the case, and in fact appears to directly contradict the concern for any mixing of potable and non-potable waters.

Furthermore, Page 12, lines 1-3, prohibits irrigation with tertiary recycled water within 50 feet of any domestic water supply well unless many conditions are met.  Yet this same protection is not provided for our vulnerable and already impaired creeks and streams.  It seems to interfere with the regulatory authority of the Regional Boards.  It has been scientifically demonstrated that aquatic life and wildlife are far more sensitive to toxins in treated wastewater than humans.  How can it be justified that only humans are at risk from recycled water?

The Department of Public Health is so very concerned about cross connections of pipes and appropriate back flow devices, and yet seems to have no concern about irrigating landscapes and playgrounds with wastewater that children play on, seems to be the giant disconnect in this legislation.

This legislation fails to account for the fact that it is not only the water itself that is at issue here, but the substances on the ground that it carries with it during runoff, such as herbicides, pesticides, nutrient rich soil amendments and manure,  sediments that may be laden with bacteria, etc.

Of course, we are also extremely concerned about unregulated chemicals in the wastewater, such as hormones, untreated remnants of personal care products, pharmaceuticals including dangerous cancer treatment drugs, and many other dangerous chemicals.  These are of such concern that the United Nations, EPA, NOAA, and USGS are all studying these issues closely now with the intent of future regulation that will protect not only the public, but the aquatic and wildlife as well.  (Three salmon species are threatened and endangered in our river.)

I want to keep this short for now, so I won’t go any further with these comments.  I hope my comments will be provided to committee members at tomorrow’s hearing.  I am sorry that I won’t be able to attend.  Please keep me informed on this issue.

Brenda Adelman