Sonoma County Gazette, February 2014: Potable Water

Potable water is irreplaceable….

Fresh, clean potable water is irreplaceable, yet instances of sullying limited water supplies with endocrine disrupting, cancer causing, birth defect resulting chemicals are growing day by day. Approximately 80,000 chemicals have been identified, including many pharmaceutical products, with at least 1000 labeled as endocrine disruptors. The array of sources for chemical entry into our water supply includes wastewater discharges, irrigation and storm water runoff, industrial spills, etc. Their mixtures blend into an undefined and inadequately regulated toxic soup.

Because these toxins are mostly unseen, and because they cause health problems for humans and wildlife that are not immediately visible and identifiable, health and environmental officials, and even the general public, often express minimal concern for their presence in our water. This is particularly problematic for creatures living in this water full time, as well as humans wanting to dine on delectable fish, normally so beneficial to our bodies and souls.

Low toxic doses can be dangerous…..
Where rivers and drinking water supplies have been scientifically analyzed by United States Geological Survey (USGS), toxic chemicals are often found in low amounts. Conventional science has promoted the credo that the ‘dose makes the poison’. Yet for the endocrine system, minute amounts of some chemicals, or their combinations, can have devastating effects. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach can no longer suffice, as water supplies dwindle and the prospect of summer bio-concentration of toxins in our waterways increase from irrigation runoff.

Laura Vandenberg, lead author of a research document bringing together results from over 800 peer reviewed studies on endocrine disruption by a dozen prominent, award winning scientists, states in her letter to the State Water Board on June 27, 2012: “The concept of low dose effects… not at the fringe of science. The Endocrine Society, the world’s largest professional association of clinical and research endocrinologists,.….has repeatedly reiterated the conclusion that low doses of EDCs are harmful to humans and wildlife. This conclusion has widespread acceptance in the field of endocrinology due to the strength of the published data.” (EDCs: endocrine disrupting chemicals.)

Russian River Biological Opinion fails to consider toxins…..
The January 17th meeting sponsored by the Sonoma County Water Agency on the Biological Opinion described progress with Russian River habitat enhancement programs for threatened coho, Chinook, and steelhead species; but no consideration of any toxic chemical analysis and control. For the last thirty years, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) has been tooting the toxicity ‘horn’ to governmental agencies, fishery groups, etc. and the need to study this problem, especially in regard to endocrine disruption, but to no avail. It is interesting however, that the study on food intake by fish in the Estuary found few females to study. Could this be an indication of endocrine disruption at work?

About twenty years ago, there was one brief two week period when Santa Rosa’s Board of Public Utilities wisely contemplated spending $30,000 to conduct studies (in conjunction with UC Davis labs) on possible feminization of fish resulting from exposure to wastewater. It was soon decided however, that the City did not want to open that ‘can of worms’ and they backed off.

‘Toilet to tap’ on the agenda for Californians……
For many years, officials have been deeply concerned about the depletion of water resources statewide. Since they have failed to control groundwater depletion, they have failed to fully resolve water supply and environmental issues in the Bay Delta system leading to southern California, as they have been craving a resurgence in growth, jobs, and the economy, the easiest path to significantly expand water resources was through irrigated wastewater and ‘toilet to tap’ technology.

The State developed policies outlining the ways wastewater irrigation can expand potable water supplies. This is especially important now that we appear to be in a very significant drought. A scientific panel was established to address the issue of endocrine disruption but scientists appointed didn’t believe in ‘low dose effects’ and concluded that it’s safe to irrigate urban irrigation areas with tertiary wastewater without conducting special studies of hormonal toxins.

Monitoring and enforcement of runoff is terribly weak….
The State Board left it to the Regional Boards to work out application of policies in individual reclamation permits, two of which were just reauthorized on Nov. 21st, 2013, for the Cities of Santa Rosa and Windsor. While Santa Rosa’s permit includes many requirements for wastewater irrigation, monitoring and enforcement is extremely inadequate. In their comments on the permit, RRWPC pointed out the following:
• A clear pattern of repeated runoff incidents by approximately 20 irrigators has continued over the last seven years. This is illegal and should be stopped. Yet to our knowledge, Santa Rosa has never turned off irrigated wastewater spigot to those who fail to comply.

• It is unclear if agronomic rates are utilized by all irrigators. Some small urban parcels, especially those indicating repeated runoff events, irrigate huge amounts of water during the irrigation period. A few 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, it should trigger an investigation regarding appropriate applications on these sites.
• Routine inspections take place when irrigation is turned off, probably because irrigators are told to irrigate around midnight when runoff can’t be seen, and inspections are required only once a month.
• Most runoff reports estimated spills in range of 5 to 10 gallons even where hundreds of thousands of gallons per month were irrigated. This is a probable sign that inspections are casual and brief and attempts are not made to determine how long spill was going on or what caused it. When daily observations take place, as they did over one two week period, the incidences and amounts of reported runoff increased significantly.
• Runoff is maximized by irrigating narrow landscape strips next to impervious surfaces such as streets, driveways, sidewalks, etc. This directly contradicts utilization of agronomic rates for plant water uptake. Regional Board files contain at least 200 photos from 2010 of urban runoff upon which no fines were levied. 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, ending up in the severely impaired Laguna.
Finally, if this drought continues and conditions get desperate, there will be little water in our creeks and river. Once again, our impaired waterways will consist of mostly chemical wastewater.

Brenda Adelman can be reached at with questions. To be on contact list, please send email with request. More information available at RRWPC website: