Email sent to State Water Resources Control Board
Comment Letter: General Order WDRs for Recycled Water Use
Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation founded in 1980. For about the last ten years, we have been tracking and commenting on the issue of tertiary wastewater irrigation to both your Board and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. We have been especially concerned about irrigation wastewater runoff in urban areas. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on these Waste Discharge Requirements for Recycled Water Use.
RRWPC represents hundreds of lower Russian River residents, property and business owners, recreationists, etc. who are concerned about water quality and flows in the lower Russian River, one of the most popular summer vacation destinations of the Bay Area. Most of our local economy depends on tourism and any negative impacts on the river from upstream irrigation practices, in combination with very low flows, can have a devastating effect on our river and our economy. Furthermore, our already impaired river (temperature, sediments, pathogens) is bound to get much worse in the coming months because of drought. The Anti Degradation Policy, as analyzed on page 7 of the Order, addresses maintaining high quality waters, but what about preventing impaired water bodies from getting worse? Also, how can a determination be made on compliance with this policy without a CEQA process in place?
RRWPC recently circulated a one page form letter to our supporters about this Order with our quarterly mailer that went out last week. We attach a copy of the letter to these comments. Because of the holiday weekend, we assume that many people will get letters in after the deadline, but since all letters will be the same, we request that you enter them into the record for this item and accept the ones that come in late. We understand that you will be under no obligation to respond in that circumstance, but we would like people’s voices counted.
We realize that this Order is in response to the very serious drought the State is currently experiencing. Rather than focusing on much more cost effective conservation efforts however, the drum beats for potable reuse and wastewater irrigation are getting much stronger. In our area, excuses abound for not stepping up conservation programs with stringent, mandatory requirements (in ag as well as urban use), rather than the perceived easier route of developing expensive infrastructure to spray the dubious wastewater commodity on our urban landscape. (See attached letter to Board of Directors of Sonoma County Water Agency expressing our concern about a lack of mandatory conservation.) Agencies are concerned that utility budgets will suffer and jobs will be lost if conservation is truly successful. RRWPC has demonstrated that in our area, a well publicized voluntary conservation program has not come close to achieving its 20% savings goal because of a lack of teeth in the program. Instead, millions may be spent on infrastructure expansions for irrigation, and rates will probably go sky high because of it.
We believe that this Order represents the State’s best efforts in dealing with a real crisis, yet throughout the document, uncertainty is expressed about whether the wastewater is completely safe enough for human contact and discharge into waterways since there are about 80,000 chemicals on the market, most unregulated and safety unknown. Clean Water Act regulates about 200 of them. Where human and environmental health are involved, caution should prevail.
Examples of toxic exposures causing health impacts are many:
During review of the Recycled Water Policy, RRWPC provided your Board with a great deal of information on the topic of endocrine disruption and the risks associated with low dose exposures of humans and wildlife to these substances. There are at least 800 studies pointing to the connection of chemical exposures to resulting disease and deformity in humans and wildlife. Since approval of that policy, we have learned the following, (much of it in the last year) and this is only small part of list:
• We are in the sixth major extinction of species and this is the only one to be caused by human activity;
• on May 21st, 2014, a report stated that millions of dead fish have been found all over the world in the past month alone;
• Recently, a huge (and unusual) number of baby seals and sea lions have been reported sick and dying along the California coast;
• We have also learned that disappearing frogs have their immune systems weakened by chemicals, and that
• bees are dying because of pesticides. Furthermore,
• we are learning that Roundup is way less benign than formerly thought.
And there is more.
• Sweden is suing European Union for delay in identifying harmful chemicals in thousands of everyday products such as disinfectants, pesticides, and toiletries that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and developmental disorders in children. Delay attributed to lobbying by chemical industry.
• We have learned that 23 babies were born with rare birth defect (anencephaly) in Central Washington from 2010 to 2013 and no one knows the cause.
• In 2009, studies showed that declining male fertility in UK fish AND human males is linked to a wide variety of chemicals found in water pollution.
• A report in 2014 indicated that Spanish male fish are being feminized on the Basque coast. Fish in most of their estuaries had been affected.
• A Canadian article in 2008 asked if men are becoming extinct since male infertility has been on the rise and more male infants born with impaired reproductive organs. Furthermore, world wide there are fewer male children being born than ever before.
• Low doses of controversial insecticide may harm friendly pests. (March 2014)
• Autism, sometimes thought to be induced by chemical exposures, has gone from 1 in 150 children born in 2007 to 1 in 68 children born in 2014. These statistics are from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Hospitals may release antibiotic-resistant bacteria (E coli), which may be resistant to common treatment processes in wastewater treatment facilities. (In studies, E coli following wastewater treatment dropped by 94% but proportion of resistant bacteria doubled during treatment.)
(References can be provided on bold items above upon request.)
Reclamation Permits: Inadequate monitoring and enforcement:
The North Coast Board wrote extensive regulations into Reclamation Permits, but their monitoring and reporting requirements are so limited, it will be extremely difficult to know when compliance occurs and even more difficult to prove when it does not. Because this State Order turns what is normally a point source discharge into a non-point through allowance of incidental runoff, the monitoring and reporting requirements need to be more tightly monitored and enforced. Does this Order change the regulatory standing (i.e., displace it?) of Santa Rosa’s Reclamation Permit?
What is of great concern is that in the face of uncertainty, rather than following the Precautionary Principal, this Order allows a practice that, if perfectly carried out may or may not be somewhat safe, but inadequate monitoring and enforcement measures may still be needed to assure that occurs. There is a need to adequately fund the Regional Boards for the ability to enforce these measures.
Reliance on utilities to self-enforce may result in compliance problems. Since the utilities will be selling this water (Santa Rosa charges 95% of the cost of potable water.), it gives them a monetary motivation to cut costs wherever possible and assure maximization of water applications. It appears as though Santa Rosa has cut back on their successful conservation program, as they may believe that they have saturated their ability to lower water use. They frequently claim that demand hardening has set in. In this difficult drought, funding may motivate such a comment. In our view, there is much more room for more conservation. It’s just the cheap and easy methods have already been explored.
In fact, we wonder if Regional Board will be playing an adequate role in enforcement of this policy? In the specifications on page 13, neither the Clean Water Act or Porter Cologne are mentioned. The wastewater provider is placed in the position of authority over the irrigation. They stand to benefit financially from their position and have motivation for hiding compliance issues. (Monitoring and reporting seem loose. that few will know when they are out of compliance and there is no clear requirements for time and type of inspecting.) What is included in the notice of Applicability. (It would be helpful if this were more clearly described in Order.)
Need to include Precautionary Principal:
EPA requires definite proof of harm for each hazardous chemical before taking regulatory action. The burden is placed on public agencies to demonstrate harm of each chemical. Potential health and environmental impacts are not considered when designing new technologies and materials. Government must wait until an overwhelming body of evidence is accumulated before intervention takes place. Polluters interfere to slow down regulatory process of very dangerous toxins. We read with skepticism that adherence to Title 22 will assure exposures to tertiary wastewater irrigation are safe.
Four main ideas of Precautionary Principle:
Preventive action must be taken in face of uncertainty. The burden of proof must be shifted to proponents of an activity. A wide range of alternatives should be explored to possibly harmful actions. Public participation in decision making must be increased (no restricting of CEQA).
(We intentionally differentiate between tertiary and further treatments such as ozonization and advanced membrane technology. The latter is expected to remove far more of toxic chemicals.)
Concern that nonpoint runoff will be greatly increased:
Incremental runoff incidences have consistently been ignored by Regional Board staff, even when repeated frequently. (When formal complaints were filed, Cease and Desist actions took place, but never Administrative Civil Liability action and fines have NEVER been imposed, even where multiple incidents occur at same location. This may be attributed to inadequate staffing at the agency.)
After RRWPC filed complaint against Santa Rosa, irrigators were encouraged to irrigate at night, so proving runoff may be impossible. In fact, those in charge of irrigation projects are not required to inspect when system is operating. They can go on site many hours after spigot has been turned off, and claim they do not see runoff. They can see a wet sidewalk and not call it runoff. As long as they don’t see it actually going into a drain, they can claim there is no runoff. Or in some cases, they can claim very small amounts such as 5-10 gallons when millions are being irrigated over the season and likely that much more is being spilled. And then these incremental spills from over-watered sites, accumulate in the low flow creeks, with the result that none are actually regulated, at least by North Coast Regional Board. (RRWPC has provided numbers to back up these statements in our comments to Regional Board on Santa Rosa’s Reclamation permit. (attached))
Also, we need to point out that Santa Rosa oversees their own system and Rohnert Park’s because the latter is part of Subregional system. Santa Rosa also manages a large number of agricultural acres, 18 of which are still receiving payments ($225,000 last year) for using the wastewater for irrigation. While Rohnert Park will become Administrators for their own system next year, Santa Rosa will still be legally responsible for Rohnert Park spills because they are in charge of the Subregional system. We wonder if this will be a difficult administrative arrangement given Rohnert Park’s propensity for over irrigation and spills.
Wastewater irrigation not always cost effective & sometimes not available:
No consideration is given to issue that recycling infrastructure is very expensive and during drought, there is often little to recycle. Santa Rosa’s storage ponds often go way down in summer, depending on whether there were late spring rains. If extensive funds are spent on irrigation infrastructure and the wastewater is not there, it’s a double whammy cost wise. Wastewater is counted on to offset water use, but there is neither water or much wastewater available in drought, so problem is still not solved. (That is situation in Sonoma County.)
Studies on cost effectiveness of such projects must be developed (for both utility AND customer). A related issue is that utilities lose money when conservation succeeds. On the other hand, with recycled water, they can raise rates to pay for infrastructure, and then sell back the wastewater at 95% of the cost of potable water. This situation pits the customer against the utility in some areas cost wise. There may be huge variables in situations of different communities around the State. All of this needs to be analyzed. By eliminating CEQA, you eliminate public input into project consideration.
Title 22 does not fully insure protection of public health (#9):
The regulatory focus of wastewater irrigation relies mostly on Title 22, overseen by California’s Department of Health Services. This regulation primarily addresses human pathogens as they initiate acute diseases and does little or nothing to protect the public from chronic diseases, such as cancer. Cancer (and most chronic diseases) is often not diagnosed until long after the exposure(s) to agents that have caused it to occur. This makes it nearly impossible to protect people from harm from endocrine disrupting chemicals without implementing precautions before specific causation is determined.
It is of concern that Item # 25 on page 9 states: “By restricting the use of recycled water to Title 22 requirements, this order ensures that recycled water is used safely.” But then goes on to qualify the circumstances. My interpretation of this section is that Title 22 is considered fully safe if used as required, but if not, these other regulations will also be enforced to provide additional protection. Yet, you will not know if Title 22 is NOT working until you have spills that someone finds out about and Regional Board follows up with disciplinary action. The second part of this explanation is very unclear and should be rewritten. We believe that the practice of application at agronomic rates is alluded to here as the saving grace, and with that we mostly agree, except we do not believe that practices in place are sufficient to assure this is being and will always be implemented properly.
Certainly benefits can be provided by agronomic rates. That would assume that soil types, weather, wind, plants irrigated, impervious surfaces, etc. are all being considered, if one can assume full monitoring and reporting takes place. Unfortunately however, we have studied the situation in our area and found it to be very lacking. Also, what kind of level of safety can be assured when the vast number of chemicals in the wastewater are neither identified or removed? It cannot be assumed that all endocrine disruptors are removed unless a monitoring program takes place, which this Order refuses to do in the case of applications of tertiary water used for landscape irrigation (with particular concern for children’s schools, parks, playgrounds, etc.)
Wastewater treatment lexicon misleading:
Utilities departments in the past mislead the public by changing wastewater lexicon from treated sewage (1985) to treated effluent (1990), to recycled wastewater (1995) to water reuse (after 2000), etc., while making only a few changes in the quality of the product. By referring to tertiary treatment as ‘reused water’, they intentionally give an image of its being totally safe.
Furthermore, misrepresentations often occur when presenting information to irrigators and the public. For instance, the North Marin Water District has on their website a statement referring to their irrigation wastewater as being of highest quality, “Of the three quality standards of recycled water in California, NMWD supply will be of the highest quality, and comply with requirements set by the County of Marin and the state—second only to drinking water in purity.” When asked if they are using ozone and membrane filtration treatment, staff of the utility replied that they use tertiary. We have never heard that tertiary is a higher quality than wastewater treated with ozone and membrane filtration so it appears as though they are deliberately misleading. These misimpressions seem common with many utility departments.
In a packet used for training site supervisors of wastewater irrigation areas, Santa Rosa Subregional Treatment Plant staff identified Recycled Water as “…wastewater that is treated to a high level and then reused for non-potable purposes”. They go on to state that Recycled Water is not wastewater. They define tertiary treatment process as having four stages, the same four stages that had always been known to characterize tertiary treatment. It is never mentioned that only a very small number of about 80,000 chemicals in existence are even monitored. They merely state that, “There has never been a documented illness from appropriate recycled water use.” How would they know if such a case ever occurred?
Furthermore, recycled water in summer receives the exact same treatment as the wastewater discharged from their storage ponds in winter, for which they have a 200 page NPDES Permit to comply with. What’s the difference? If the assumption is that no discharge will occur, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. (namely, 200 photos at the Regional Board showing runoff in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park)
So in summer, the point discharge becomes a nonpoint discharge and the emphasis is changed from compliance with NPDES Permit to compliance with Title 22, at a time of year when runoff into shallow, or even non-flowing streams can be most damaging because of unregulated remnant toxins and nutrients from the wastewater itself, or the products running off with it from the soils, such as pesticides, herbicides, soil amendments, etc.
Title 22 goes to great lengths to assure there are no cross connections between potable water pipes and purple wastewater pipes. To further assure no contact, they also require backflow devices. Many pages of the regulations are devoted to assuring that there is no contact between pipes.
Yet once the wastewater leaves the pipes in the irrigation process, almost anything goes with tertiary (per Title 22). The water can be used on playgrounds, parks, school yards, golf courses, pools; it can be watered on vegetables and food products, and possibly may even be used on organic produce. The basis for allowing this latter practice was based on one five year study in Monterey which determined that it was safe to eat raw food crops irrigated with tertiary wastewater. This study was published in 1987 and to our knowledge has not been replicated anywhere else. The only pollutants considered were the conventional ones monitored in NPDES permits. Endocrine disrupting chemicals and many others were not addressed.
Incidental runoff reporting concerns:
We wonder what will change in terms of monitoring and reporting under the new Order? RRWPC has had the following concerns with irrigation reports provided by City of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park: (we have inspected files)
• Reclamation permits are vague about how irrigation will be monitored and relies on SR’s Recycled Water Guide which is not specific regarding individual sites;
• Guide is not specific on reporting
• The files contain no details on the determination of agronomic rates and it is totally unclear whether they are being followed. Inches and amounts of water applied to some parcels seems to indicate they are not.
• Report forms inadequate:
o Irrigation takes place at night, but inspections occur in morning. No wastewater use amounts reported nor whether irrigation even occurred the day the report was made. Therefore you don’t know if they irrigated, but had no spills OR whether they just didn’t irrigate that day.
o Neither exact time of inspection noted on report, nor hours of irrigation. Report can be made on runoff many hours after irrigation occurred.
o Where there is overflow, no report on amount of ww irrigated that day and no way of knowing how much may have run off.
o Cursory exam of runoff, small amounts reported (5-10 gallons) and not even clear on HOW they make inspection. In other words, do they examine entire site or just do a drive by?
o Spray irrigation allowed next to and in-between imperious surfaces and on swales near storm drains. There is probably no way there would NOT be runoff.
o No regulation of repeat runoff year after year by certain irrigators. Many of these occur at schools, parks, and playgrounds where young children can have contact.
o No ACLs by Regional Board on entities having multiple runoff incidents over many years.
o Numerous irrigators report the use of gigantic amounts of wastewater on small urban parcels with a great deal of impervious surfaces and on clay soils (I believe). As much as 50” or more per acre application has been reported, far more than what is usually estimated for landscape (30”?)
o Reports note that irrigation overflows are reported to someone in charge, but nothing in files give follow up report on what was done. Subsequent reports often indicate repeat runoff events.
o Nothing in files about how agronomic rates are determined and it appears they may not be followed at all.
MOST OF THESE ISSUES COULD BE EFFECTIVELY ADDRESSED BY ENCOURAGING DRIP IRRIGATION!
Some impacts of endocrine disruption and toxic exposures:
Burgeoning science has been coming forth nonstop on endocrine disruption to humans and wildlife caused by a group of approximately 1000 chemicals in our everyday world. (list keeps growing) EPA and the State’s response thus far has been to insist that problem needs further study to determine the level at which a chemical is believed to cause a health problem. Most endocrinologists believe that the dose no longer determines the poison and that, in an erratic and unpredictable fashion, minute amounts of a toxin can cause significant impacts to the endocrine systems of humans and wildlife, which can result in developmental problems and disabilities, reproductive impairments, cancer, heart disease, autism, obesity, feminization and masculinization, diabetes, etc.
A recent article (Chemical Regulation Reporter 5-5-‘14) draws attention to the fact that there are disagreements among scientists and between scientists and EPA about the issue of endocrine disruption. EPA had been persuaded to do special studies on the issue as a precursor to moving forward on regulatory action. They released their report in December, 2013. Since then, the National Academy of Sciences responded and their comments were since reported.
The National Academy of Sciences responded to the EPA report with a lengthy analysis of its findings. They stated that the report failed to demonstrate that the strategy to detect harm from endocrine disrupting chemicals that mimic, block or alter the function of hormones in the endocrine system, is flawed. The NAS report called on the EPA to further analyze testing strategies, explain what they are, and clearly describe how it reaches its conclusions. The report focused on procedures used by EPA and scientific rationale for its conclusions. Apparently, EPA studies do not consider low dose impacts of these chemicals. Furthermore, EPA had been previously criticized for not examining scientific studies consistently and to transparently explain how it reaches its conclusions.
A six person Scientific Panel was set up under the Recycled Water Policy. They produced their report on CEC’s and recommended that no monitoring for endocrine disrupting chemicals was necessary for tertiary wastewater used on landscapes. Based on the following information, we respectably disagree.
During the public comment process for the Recycled Water Policy Amendment, RRWPC approached lead author Dr. Laura Vandenberg of the recent study entitled: “Hormones and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Low-Dose Effects and Nonmonotonic Dose Responses” By Laura N. Vandenberg, Theo Colborn, Tyrone B. Hayes, Jerrold J. Heindel, David R. Jacobs, Jr., Duk-Hee Lee, Toshi Shioda, Ana M. Soto, Frederick S. vom Saal, Wade V. Welshons, R. Thomas Zoeller, and John Peterson Myers (Endocrine Reviews: March 14, 2012) to request that she write a letter to submit to State Water Board on the Amendment. (attached)
In her June 27, 2012 letter, lead study author, Laura Vandenberg stated: The concept of low dose effects and non-monotonic dose responses is not at the fringe of science. The Endocrine Society, the world’s largest professional association of clinical and research endocrinologists, has released two recent statements regarding EDCs, and has repeatedly reiterated the conclusion that low doses of EDCs are harmful to humans and wildlife [3, 4]. This conclusion has widespread acceptance in the field of endocrinology due to the strength of the published data. Additionally, following the publication of our review , Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institutes of Environmental Health Science (NIH) and one of the world’s leading toxicologists wrote an editorial stating: “the question is no longer whether nonmonotonic dose responses are ‘real’ and occur frequently enough to be a concern; clearly these are common phenomena with well-understood mechanisms…It is time to start the conversation between environmental health scientists, toxicologists, and risk assessors to determine how our understanding of low-dose effects and nonmonotonic dose responses influence the way risk assessments are performed for chemicals with endocrine-disrupting activities. Together, we can take appropriate actions to protect human and wildlife populations from these harmful chemicals and facilitate better regulatory decision making.” 
This study demonstrates that many endocrine disrupting chemicals have been found to cause significant health impacts to humans and wildlife at extremely low doses (approximately 1000 such chemicals have been identified so far). Those impacts are erratic and unpredictable. The twelve highly credentialed scientists connected with this study examined 800 studies on endocrine disruption that described low dose impacts causing many serious diseases and developmental problems in humans and wildlife. Yet the State’s Scientific Panel established to determine if endocrine disrupting chemicals need to be monitored, determined that it was not necessary.
Yet on the other hand, only one study done in 1987 (peer reviewed?) has determined that no harm will come from irrigating raw vegetables with wastewater. Agencies use this as justification for practice of wastewater irrigation of vegetable crops. There is a unexplained conflicting contradiction here.
In our comments to the State Board on the RWP Amendment, we quoted from Linda Sheehan formerly of California Coastkeeper, on this topic. She expressed the following important concerns about the Panel’s CEC report:
• Extremely limited set of monitoring proxies
• Concern about deference to CDPH
• Public’s relative ignorance about far reaching impacts of these chemicals
• Monitoring major focus on human health impacts
Ms. Sheehan calls for development of standardized interim list of CECs to be monitored that includes treatment plant efforts to identify appropriate CECs for freshwater eco-toxicological concerns. In regard to the monitoring recommended in the Study, she states on page 4 of her comments,
“However, the final Panel recommendations are completely inappropriate in light of the data and fail to meet the requirements or goals of the Recycled Water Policy. For example, the Panel did not expressly acknowledge the fact that discharge of recycled water to receiving waters occurs on a daily basis, ……or that many northern California streams that may receive recycled water effluent interact regularly and closely with groundwater. As such, the importance of including monitoring recommendations for those CECs that potentially pose a risk to aquatic life and ecosystems is absolutely critical. By failing to recommend a robust monitoring program even in the short-term in light of this dearth of data, the Report will only delay the increased, safe use of recycled water that California needs to ensure a sustainable water future.”
Repeated irrigation runoff happens year after year:
RRWPC had noted many irrigation overflows in Rohnert Park in 2009 and filed a complaint. There are approximately 200 photos of runoff in North Coast Regional Water Board files. Furthermore, I commented extensively to this issue in our comments on Santa Rosa’s NPDES and Reclamation Permit, authorized in December of 2013.
In our July 22nd comments (attached), I made the case that numbers presented in the quarterly, annual, and other reports, provide evidence that numerous urban landscape irrigators are repeatedly cited for multiple and even frequent incidents of irrigation runoff. There is no indication in any of these reports of what action may have been taken to stop these violations which we just learned have been going on at least since 2005. (Some irrigators have been cited for irrigation runoff as a result of citizen complaints, but none, to our knowledge, cited as a result of official investigations.)
Two examples found in annual reports covering 2010 through 2012. The Spreckles Community Center in Rohnert Park had 27 runoff incidents in 2010, 20 incidents in 2011, and 10 incidents in 2012. Prior years had spills as well although they are not listed here. Redwood Creek Apartments, also in Rohnert Park, had a significant number of repeated spills. In 2010 they had 19 spills, 18 in 2011, and 12 in 2012.
While the Water User’s Guide says that shutting off repeat offenders would only be done as a last resort, we believe that Santa Rosa has never cut anyone off. We have heard them state that they probably never will. Furthermore, while these numbers appeared in annual reports, neither Santa Rosa nor the Regional Board, to the best of our knowledge, ever penalized anyone for multiple instances of over irrigation and runoff into waterways..
Spill amounts impossible to identify accurately:
While the number of reported gallons spilled were not significant, there is no way to ascertain whether those numbers are accurate and to what extent flows may have involved discharge to a waterway. Irrigation takes place at night, visual inspections occur once a week at the most, and it is not known what efforts were made to determine the length of time the spill had been taking place. It is also possible that visual inspections are cursory (drive by?) and spills may have occurred prior or subsequent to the inspection.
While the Guide calls for a designated staff person to be available 24/7 to deal with all emergencies, in most cases the staff person is responsible for multiple sites. In fact, 2/3 of Rohnert Park irrigation sites are separate public facilities and we believe, has one supervisor and two employees to cover about 20 parcels throughout the City. It is unclear how compliance is met at ALL times, when sites are inspected no more than once a week. In some circumstances, a leak can go on for days because no one is inspecting frequently enough and the general public thinks its potable water (Signs are half the size of a piece of notebook paper and usually very hard to see. I once went looking and couldn’t find them; someone had to show me.)
Often the amounts of runoff identified are in the under ten gallon range on small parcels that may irrigate a million plus gallons per acre a season to as much as 50 inches application (far too great to be agronomic). This is suspiciously low amount and causes us to believe that these amounts are estimates based on a very brief surveillance of the immediate situation. Furthermore, irrigators are required to look to Landscape Irrigation Guide for guidance on preventing runoff, but the Guide is usually vague and definitely not site specific. Special attention should be given to repeat offenders.
Are agronomic rates utilized in urban areas? (From RRWPC Comments on Reclamation Permit)
Were agronomic rates developed on individual parcels? Reclamation Permit calls for operations and management plan to be developed (not sure when) describing proper irrigation amounts and applications. We have not seen any specific rules for individual parcels to develop. In either case, a more detailed plan is needed to spell out how excessive and repeated runoff will be avoided. We don’t think the Guide is adequate.
We requested and studied City files at Regional Board offices of the largest wastewater irrigation users, and never saw agronomic analyses for individual parcels. Water user contracts appear to say nothing about calculating and/or utilizing agronomic rates. We saw nothing about agronomic applications in Recycled Water User’s Guide (Guide) either. After Reclamation Permit adopted by Regional Board, we spent time looking at files and saw almost nothing about how they were being calculated and controlled. RRWPC had filed a complaint on Santa Rosa’s runoff during freezing weather in early 2012. After that, the City started irrigating at night and since we live a considerable distance away, we were unable to track runoff any longer.
There is a list of all irrigators and the amount they irrigate at the back of Attachment G in the current permit. We assume these allocated amounts were based on studies of agronomic rates for individual properties. Large agricultural parcels growing pasture or fodder crops use far less water per acre (in some cases half as much) than the urban landscape irrigators use. We had been under the impression that fodder crops use large amounts of water. Furthermore, much of the urban landscape borders on impervious surfaces and wherever we have viewed urban runoff, it has involved water running over those surfaces, and into streets and storm drains.
Newly required stream setback designations in new permits for irrigation applications that will protect water quality, should be applied to all permits. If this is not feasible, at a minimum they should be applied to renewed permits as well.
It was stated that technical reports were required to be approved to demonstrate water is being applied in a manner to protect water quality. (E.O.’s summary report on page 3 states that Regional Board relies heavily on the Recycled Water User’s Guide to implement agronomic rates and minimize runoff.) Santa Rosa complained that over regulation discourages uses of wastewater for irrigation. Most oversight has been left in the hands of the irrigators and Regional Board staff play too minimal a role.
The Guide is vague on environmental protection while more focused on Title 22 requirements. The requirements listed in Attachment G are vague enough to allow for weak enforcement which accommodates Santa Rosa’s concern about regulatory overload. There is a need for a monitoring program that identifies the true amount of runoff. There is a need for enforcement against repeat offenders, including turning off the irrigation spout! There is a need for specific agronomic application reporting and enforcement that indicates amount to be applied next to amount actually applied. When a irrigator applies one or two million gallons per acre, there needs to be full justification for that amount.
Water Quality Impacts on Recreational Waters:
RRWPC is concerned that drought conditions provide special circumstances to which recreation is especially vulnerable. We have significant concerns that incidental runoff, even if in small amounts, will severely impact already challenged waterways with surplus nutrients (Laguna listed as impaired for nutrients, and lower Russian River has experienced severe problems also.) Right now, flows at the Hacienda Bridge, about six miles upstream from Guerneville, are under 100 cfs, an unusually low level for this time of year. We may be looking at extremely low flows all summer, even though Lake Sonoma water pool, from which contractor water is provided, is at 74%.
These low flows are not only unpleasant for recreationists, but are more likely to harbor and promote pathogens, the spread of invasive plants, excessive nutrient blooms, high water temperatures bad for many of the fish, etc. This will also have a huge impact on our local economy, not to mention the impact on public health. Allowing any kind of runoff in these circumstances could lead to disease outbreaks, formation of toxic algae, and many other serious problems. The lower Russian River is a Public Trust resource, and as such, it must be preserved for recreational uses. As mentioned earlier, conservation can provide as many or more water saving benefits at far less cost to ratepayers, especially in light of the possibility that there will be little summer water to irrigate anyway.
Prohibitions: Comments (pages 14-16):
#2: If irrigation occurs at night, how will administrator know if wastewater is being applied to saturated soils?
#3: How will administrator assure that no wastewater is escaping if irrigation is at night and inspections don’t occur when system is operating?
#4: Airborne spray has been equated to incidental runoff and considered by Santa Rosa to be authorized under the Basin Plan and Recycled Water Policy. RRWPC disagrees with this interpretation. Who is right? Also, this appears it might contradict #7.
#5: Concerned that children will plan on damp grass at schools, playgrounds, play fields, etc. and have direct contact on skin and possibly mouth. This is not healthy!!!
#7: Concerned that even small spills/sprays into greatly impaired creeks during hot, dry summer, will cause further impairment and have health impacts on humans and pets using water ways for recreation.
To end on a positive note, here are some recommendations for best management practicers that would make irrigation, particularly on small parcels in urban areas, much safer.
• Irrigation inspections should take place daily and only when system is operating.
• No irrigation should take place 100’ from any creek or waterway.
• System should be temporarily turned off until problem is addressed if any water is in gutter heading to drain.
• No irrigation should occur on narrow vegetation strips between impervious surfaces.
• Tertiary wastewater used for landscape and agricultural irrigation should be tested for endocrine disrupting chemicals.
• Reports should note time of inspection and times and amounts of irrigation.
• Irrigators should be actively encouraged to use drip irrigation.
• Signs informing people irrigation with treated wastewater is used should be at least 8.5”x11” and in contrasting colors that are easily visible.
• Very high water users should be tracked and inspected more carefully for compliance.
• Whenever there are signs of runoff (such as wet pavement), inspections should be more frequent and detailed until the situation is addressed and corrected.
• Regional Board staff should investigate sites where repeated incidents occur.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this General Order. We hope the issues raised in this letter will be noticed and addressed.
1. RRWPC form letter from supporters (1 page)
2. RRWPC letter to SCWA Board of Directors on Drought
3. RRWPC July and December Comments on Santa Rosa’s Reclamation Permit
4. Laura Vandenberg’s letter to State Board regarding Recycled Water Policy Amendment, including her article on low dose exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals
5. RRWPC Complaint to Regional Board (1-30-2012) on Santa Rosa’s irrigation violations