State Water Resources Control Board
Felicia Marcus, Chair
1001 I St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Public Meeting on Drinking Water Reorganization
Hand Delivered January 15, 2014
Dear Chairwoman Marcus and Board Members:
My name is Brenda Adelman and I am here representing Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC). We are a nonprofit corporation working in the public interest since 1980 to protect water quality in the lower Russian River. We represent the concerns of hundreds of property owners, recreationists, and business people in our area.
RRWPC provided extensive comments to your Board on the Recycled Water Policy and Recycled Water Policy Amendment. We also provided similar comments to the North Coast Regional Board on the MS4 Permit as it deals with ‘incidental runoff’ as well as the North Coast Basin Plan Amendment dealing with the same topic. We commented to State Legislature on AB 2398 and 803, as well as supporting AB 145, but not Senate Bills 322 or 918 authorizing this reorganization as we didn’t hear about them in time. RRWPC writings on the topic of recycled water can be found on our website at www.rrwpc.org
We submit comments now on the Drinking Water Reorganization. We do not oppose the reorganization, rather we are concerned about implementing the merger in a way that assures adequate protection of the environment, especially in regards to runoff (whether incidental or not). We believe, based on direct experience, that plans to prevent runoff and the pollution carried with it, are inadequate.
We cheer intent of proposal as stated in meeting announcement: “This transfer is intended to align the state’s drinking water and water quality programs in an integrated organizational structure. This structure will best position the state to effectively protect water quality and meet both current needs and future demands on water resulting from climate change, increasing population, and economic growth, while still maintaining a strong public health focus.”
We are hopeful that the issues enumerated in our letter will be addressed through the application of these programs in a manner that fully meets the intent of this program.
RRWPC’s major concerns….
Our major concerns are as follows:
• Merger proposal focuses on public health and Title 22 and does not clearly specify role of Regional Boards in protecting water quality and the environment. Proposal states that although MOA between Dept. of Health Services and State Water Board (page 4 of proposal) will no longer be needed, “State Water Board plans to continue to implement the MOA’s existing provisions regarding Regional Water Board roles.” It refers to the Memorandum of Agreement on the Use of Reclaimed Water (dated 1996).
In spite of some imperfections, the MOA does a good job in describing role of the Regional Board. Inclusive MOA wording should be integrated into this proposal.
• The means of implementation of the Recycled Water Policy should be spelled out. We noted numerous failings in the actual implementation of recycled water programs and are concerned that in its rush to expand water resources, inadequate consideration of issues may undermine the goals of the program.
Title 22 gives no attention to wastewater spill prevention once wastewater leaves purple pipes in irrigation process and Regional Board Reclamation Permits are inadequate in this regard for reasons noted below. Public health is very important, but the environment with which the public interacts is every bit as important. We have seen parks, schools, bus stops, and other places where children play, filled with wastewater. Warning signs are tiny and poorly placed. Few mothers would know that the puddle her child is playing in may be contaminated with chemicals and metals harmful at even extremely low levels.
• Adequate monitoring and enforcement of incidental runoff from landscape and agricultural irrigation with tertiary wastewater must be spelled out more carefully to prevent our waterways from becoming a soup of toxins, sediments, nutrient pollution, etc. This is especially true where the runoff goes into a severely impaired waterway such as the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Drip irrigation should be encouraged, if not required, and spray irrigation in close proximity to impervious surfaces should not be allowed.
• It concerns us that the State is moving towards direct potable reuse of wastewater with the stated intent of having health officials develop criteria for such use. One cannot assume that the protection of drinking water also protects the environment since aquatic life are generally more sensitive to exposure to much smaller doses of chemical toxins. Endocrine disrupting residues have been found in final wastewater nationwide (and also in drinking water) and even minute doses can have significant altering effects. (See Laura Vandenberg PhD., letter submitted to State Board during Recycled Water Policy Amendment comment period and attached to these comments.)
Therefore, a key issue is that direct reuse may have a greater impact on animals and aquatic life than on humans. Furthermore, this whole body of science is seemingly being either ignored or downplayed by the scientific panel selected to make recommendations on impacts of endocrine disrupting chemicals. And important decisions are being made based on those recommendations. There must be objective peer review and full analysis of ALL THE CURRENT SCIENCE AVAILABLE before wastewater is added to the drinking water supply.
• We question why minimum penalties do not apply to the Drinking Water Program? In fact, we have concerns that penalties for over irrigation have barely been issued at all in the North Coast for over-irrigation.
Definition of ‘incidental runoff’…..
The Reclamation Permit developed by the North Coast Regional Board for Santa Rosa and approved November 21, 2013, provided a clear definition of ‘incidental runoff’ based on similar definitions in the Recycled Water Policy and North Coast Basin Plan.
“Incidental runoff is defined as unintended small amounts (volume) of runoff from recycled water use areas where agronomic rates and appropriate best management practices are being implemented. Examples of incidental runoff include unintended, minimal over-spray from sprinklers that escapes the recycled water use area or accidental breakage of a sprinkler head on a properly maintained irrigation system. Water leaving a recycled water use area is not considered incidental if it is due to negligent maintenance or poor design of the facility infrastructure, if it is due to excessive application, if it is due to intentional overflow or application, or if it is due to negligence. Incidental runoff events are typically infrequent, low volume, accidental, not due to a pattern of neglect, or lack of oversight, and are promptly addressed.” (emphasis added)
While the City of Santa Rosa developed a detailed and seemingly complex program for assuring the appropriate application of wastewater to urban landscapes, nevertheless in 2010 we noted extensive irrigation runoff on their pilot project participating parcels in the winter of 2011. Two years before we found extensive runoff in Rohnert Park also. We filed complaints with the Regional Board in both cases and while staff looked into the problem, there were no penalties assigned. According to official reports, in numerous cases the problem continues. (Both entities are part of the Subregional Water Reclamation System run by Santa Rosa who also holds NPDES Permit for the system.
We are particularly concerned because runoff winds up in Laguna tributaries feeding into the Russian River. The Laguna is highly impaired for sediments, temperature, nitrogen, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, bacteria and mercury. Where runoff occurs, we are not only concerned about wastewater contents, but also contents of sediments it brings along, especially where pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are added.
Need for greater scrutiny and oversight by Regional Boards….
In closely examining Santa Rosa’s reports to the Regional Board over the last seven years, RRWPC determined that in none of these apparent violations were any penalties applied or punitive actions taken:
• A clear pattern of neglect is evidenced in self monitoring reports to Regional Board by approximately 20 irrigators indicating repeated irrigation runoff over the last seven years. Obviously no action had been taken when runoff was originally reported. Where repeated runoff occurs, it should be stopped. In spite of this, to our knowledge Santa Rosa has never turned off irrigation water to those who fail to comply with the rules.
• It is unclear if and/or how agronomic rates are determined. Some small urban parcels, especially those with repeated runoff events, irrigate huge amounts of water during the irrigation period of June through September. A few very small parcels typically apply almost one million gallons an acre, while agricultural parcels irrigating water hungry crops usually irrigate less than half that amount. The scale is so out of proportion, at the very least, it should trigger an investigation regarding appropriate applications on certain sites.
• Commonly inspections report no runoff at site but inspection took place when irrigation system was turned off, probably because irrigators are told to run system around midnight. Most inspection reports fail to describe circumstances under which runoff occurred and what was done about it.
• Most runoff reports estimated spills in range of 5 to 10 gallons even when hundreds of thousands of gallons per month are irrigated on small parcels. We believe this is sign that inspection is casual and brief and attempts are not made to determine how long spill was going on or what caused it. Runoff is also caused by irrigating small landscape strips next to impervious surfaces. Regional Board files contain at least 200 photos from 2010 of runoff upon which no fines were levied. Rohnert Park’s system manager stated publicly at recent Regional Board meeting that City is proud of great amounts of wastewater irrigated. We have seen runoff and ponding commonly occur at schools and parks where young children play. We have seen it going down the storm drain.
• Recently approved Reclamation Permit requires inspections only once a month. There is no attempt to have more stringent inspections for property owners with multiple and frequent runoff. Also, it appears the proximity of impervious surfaces, especially where landscape is sandwiched, is not being considered.
RRWPC photographed irrigation runoff in RP and SR….
RRWPC photographed many irrigation runoff sites in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa. Some pictures can be viewed on our website at www.rrwpc.org Reporting of runoff is inadequate because it is only required once a month. While irrigator contractor is supposed to be responsible for all runoff, because of weak inspection requirements, they only view sites infrequently. Also, Santa Rosa encourages irrigation around midnight, so runoff will dry up or disappear by morning. Well, fish and aquatic life live in this chemical soup 24/7 and cannot escape its effects on THEIR health and well being. Since the stated goal of this project proposal is to protect PUBLIC HEALTH, we are concerned that Regional Board responsibilities are being diminished intentionally.
When urban irrigators do report spills, they usually claim extremely small amounts (under ten gallons) based on very brief inspections, and totally out of proportion to the amount of water being used by the irrigator (In some cases over one million gallons an acre for irrigation season). When daily observations take place, as they did over one two week period, the incidences and amounts of runoff went up significantly.
Program inadequately regulated by Regional Board….
Regional Board accepts information given to them in reports assuming data is valid and adequate. Landscape application rates of wastewater are supposed to be based on agronomic values, but we have seen no verification of that by Regional Board staff. In the 2010 ACL No. R1-2010-0057, only nine runoff incidents were considered for fines, mostly on large ag parcels. The potential fine for reclamation runoff from these sites was $1,820,500. The actual penalty was $15,000, not much of an incentive to do it right.
Based on reluctance to give meaningful fines and/or penalties for repeated runoff incidents, the Regional Board conveys impression that they have little concern about potential harm from nutrients and toxins entering impaired waterways from runoff. They rely on outside citizens to report violations and seldom inspect things independently unless a formal complaint is filed. Under these circumstances, enforcement won’t be taken seriously.
It is also alarming that the Reclamation Permit only requires report of runoff when the occurrence does NOT meet the conditions of ‘incidental runoff’. This is tricky judgment call by worker in the field about whether repeat offences occurred in the past, a situation about which the monitor may be unaware. In other words, the person held accountable signs agreements to uphold permit requirements, but then may assign someone else to do the work. If someone makes a mistake by not reporting a spill, no one ever knows. We are concerned that the rules are set up to allow excessive irrigation without penalty.
Brenda Adelman for RRWPC