Comment Letter: General Order for Recycled Water Use, February 21, 2016

Jeanine Townsend, Clerk to the Board

State Water Resources Control Board

1001  I  Street  24th Floor

P.O. Box 100

Sacramento, CA 95812-0100


Sent by Email to:

February 21, 2016


Comment Letter: General Order for Recycled Water Use


Dear Ms. Townsend:

 Introduction and review of problems with Order:  Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC) is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation founded in 1980.  For about the last twelve 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 paid special attention to wastewater runoff occurring in urban areas mainly because we can get access, although we are concerned about agricultural runoff as well.  We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this General Order 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 inappropriate irrigation practices upstream, 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) was degraded further last year because of heat and drought, low flow and nutrient overloads.  In June, a dog died from contact with toxic algae and popular lower river beaches were posted with warning signs all summer screaming DANGER at beach goers!  (Dog was tested by County Health Department and cause of death verified.)  Based on first hand experience, we have reason to believe this Order does not go far enough in requiring adequate protections in the implementation of this program.  We are very concerned about the specter of toxic algae and the phosphorus pollution in our lower river that needs to be addressed.  This Order calls for a Salt and Nutrient Area Management Plan but irrigation with wastewater has been going on for years without the Plan.  There was a draft submitted several years ago with Santa Rosa in the lead role, but it seems to have disappeared.  What happened to that?  What is the time line for getting these done?  How long can Regional Board authorize irrigation without it?

We are also concerned about permitting of the trucking program where individuals can get up to 300 gallons a load and as far as we know, use it anywhere they want.  Yes, they are given instructions about where they can apply it, but who’s to check?  Who’s responsible for a spill if there’s an accident?  When the drought ‘emergency’ is declared ended, if ever, will the program be rescinded?

We realize that the intent of this Order is to make more recycled water available to offset potable use for the protection of our rivers and streams, and we don’t necessarily object entirely to the main goal, provided great care is taken to prevent wastewater runoff in summer time and contact with poisonous substances (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) that can make any wastewater runoff more dangerous.

Also it is critical to acknowledge the link between ground water, river underflow, and surface water.  In the summer, when large amounts of groundwater are pumped up, it lowers stream levels and causes the usual assortment of problems (mentioned below) from low flow in our streams.  None of this is examined or studied in this document because of the desire to ‘streamline’ the wastewater irrigation process, which has more appeal than the regulation of ground water.  I believe I have heard the California is the only state in the USA that does not regulate ground water and does not require monitoring of wells, a situation that underlies most of our problems.  While that is starting to change now, there is still a great deal of deference given to the wine industry, responsible for most groundwater overdrafts in our area.

In some ways, wastewater irrigation is better utilized on large agricultural parcels because farmers have a better understanding about agronomic application rates and may be more motivated about its use on their crops.  (Note: In checking annual water application rates by Santa Rosa’s irrigation contractors, namely Rohnert Park, we noted that agricultural lands generally use 1/3 to ½ less water per acre on high water demand crops, than small urban parcels irrigating landscapes.)  We get the impression that agronomic rates in urban areas, on constrained parcels surrounded by a great deal of impervious surface and use of relatively high pressure sprays, to be a very difficult thing to accomplish.  We question whether it has been used successfully as we have seen no evidence in the files.

Yet studies have shown that toxins in wastewater can bring long-range harm to the soils. It has also been demonstrated that they are absorbed into the edible plants and become bioavailable in the food we eat. (Attachment #1) This is not to mention the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides, which more and more are shown to be very toxic to human health. There are more reasons now to examine organic dry farming where appropriate, as a key way to save our water supply.  It is also the preference of much of the general public, who are rapidly removing their green lawns in urban areas.

We may not be alone with our concern.  We have 60,000 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County and most of them don’t want to irrigate with wastewater.  I know that salts and nutrients are an issue, but other concerns may be underlying desire for potable water also.  Some vineyard managers are using great care with water and toxins, but our impression is that most are not.  The wine industry has a political stranglehold on local and State governments and seem to mostly get their way where environmental regulation is concerned, while much of our water gets transported around the world via the wine.

Number 13 on page 3 of Draft Reclamation Requirements states, “When used incompliance with the Recycled Water Policy, the Uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria or other standards set by State Water Board and Regional Water Board for protection of Public Health, and all applicable state and federal water quality laws, the State Water Board finds that recycled water is safe for approved uses, and strongly supports recycled water as a safe alternative to raw and potable water supplies for approved uses.”  There are many problems with wastewater use not covered in current regulations. Furthermore, the Order insists that if all rules are followed, irrigation will be safe and not result in any degradation.  We ask if current degradation is the result of prior laws alluded to in the Order that are not being followed and/or not being enforced?  In either case, it leads one to question the validity of the assertion that recycled water is safe.

The Order assumes that if the wastewater meets all standards at the end of the treatment chain, it is suitable and safe to use as irrigation for distant parcels without regard for any changes it may undergo on its way to the site.  There can be bacterial regrowth while in storage with a large percentage consisting of the antibiotic resistant form; wildlife can add bacteria and possibly other toxins; there can be degradation of the wastewater from pipes leaching heavy metals as a result of disinfection chemical additions, and more.  Then runoff from over irrigation can leach lawn chemicals into the soils and off the property into the waterways.  And nutrients are similarly an important issue, especially as excessive amounts are floating in our river lately. (Attachment #2)

It is becoming more and more clear that everything in nature is connected and water management practices and the proliferation of unregulated toxic substances are gradually poisoning our lands and diminishing our water supplies and killing our wildlife.  Perhaps it is doing the same to our citizens. This reminds us of the kid’s game, pass the hot potato.  The person who gets stuck with the potato when the music stops, has to leave the game.  Gradually everyone is omitted until the last person is stuck with the potato. It’s hard to say when the last person will be holding the potato, or what kind of potato they will be holding.  Sometimes nature is resilient, but things are not looking good for our grandkids and great-grandkids at this point.This Order fails to address these issues and does all it can to avoid discussing them.  Instead, the document lists a hodge-podge of many water laws that are antiquated and inadequate and fail to acknowledge all the new science taking place and new knowledge discovered, fails to monitor and regulate all the new toxins in our environment, and tries to assure us (while not providing means to do so) that if followed, our water supplies will be adequate and safe, when in fact, this project is necessary because that is NOT the case.

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.)  Flows at the Hacienda Bridge, about six miles upstream from Guerneville, are commonly under 100 cfs in summer months.  The Biological Opinion wants them to go down to 70 cfs.

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, proliferation 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.

CEQA elimination causes more problems….The General Order eliminates California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA) from consideration, thereby eliminating most of the public process.  It also minimizes, through an extremely weak, and at times non-existent, inspection, monitoring and reporting program, the ability of enforcement to do its job. In fact, it seems to diminish and/or avoid any requirements that might suggest enforcement of runoff. It is hard or impossible to know if the irrigator is REALLY meeting agronomic rates on a regular and constant basis, and whether rules for incidental runoff are being met, (The definition in the Order only reflects the first part of the definition in the Recycled Water Policy and North Coast Basin Plan and eliminates the portion about poor management and repeated overspray.)  Furthermore, there is a huge broadening of the irrigation ‘authority’ for individuals who are only minimally trained in using the wastewater.

RRWPC attended one of Santa Rosa’s day-long irrigator trainings, after which wastewater irrigators could receive a license to apply wastewater on landscapes.  A few landscapers in the audience asked if the wastewater was safe and were told that it meets all health criteria for drinking water and is authorized for use in swimming pools, the implication being that because they were authorized to use the wastewater, that was equivalent to a determination of safety, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  These are the same assurances offered by the public opinion surveyors and this Order.  The focused message is that recycled water is safe, though issues raised repeatedly, about low dose impacts of unregulated remnant toxins, have gone unaddressed.  We believe this program will put human health, especially of children and pregnant women, at risk.  We include two articles on the low dose effect that demonstrate the reality of the phenomena.  (Attachments #3 and #4)

This proposed Order, perhaps because it does not follow CEQA, does not consider, let alone integrate, upcoming water decisions such as National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Biological Opinion (BO), demands for a 40% reduction in lower Russian summer flows (Fish Flow Project).   Clean water that becomes available with this project, will thus be retained in the reservoirs, and the dirty stuff will end up downstream in the recreation areas.  In the meantime, the cities grow and add many new people with the savings, while environmental conditions get worse and emergencies become more dire because of increased demand.  (Note: We refer to reclamation water as ‘dirty’ because there are many unidentified toxins and toxic compounds remaining in the treated sewage that are unaddressed. Runoff is a key element of water quality problems.  This document gives the impression that it is of no consequence, does not cause a problem, and need not be addressed.)

Contemplated low flow regulation plus irrigation runoff equals pollution….Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) will soon release the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on that low flow project which is defined in the Biological Opinion, and prior to this has never been subject to public review. The Biological Opinion gave no consideration to water quality impacts of low flow on the river between Dry Creek confluence downstream of Healdsburg and Duncans Mills, which is a distance of 25-30 miles.

As mentioned, river flows have been greatly diminished for numerous reasons, and may be diminished even further, while at the same time we have extremely serious water quality issues including excessive sediments, temperature, bacteria, and phosphorus, which are likely to increase with this project. Runoff of recycled water can greatly exacerbate our current degraded conditions.  We request an analysis of low flow water quality impacts in relation to irrigation runoff (and visa versa) during drought periods.  Furthermore, we are very concerned that in declaration of an emergency, none of the impacts of either this Order or the BO or their interaction with one another, will be addressed.  There will be no analysis of cumulative impacts.

Number 33e on page 14 of order states that any runoff that occurs will not be consistent with any TMDL or regional implementation plan as adopted by Regional Board.  In our area, that means the badly impaired Laguna de Santa Rosa (six constituents) will not hold irrigation failures accountable for polluting runoff into our waterway.  This seems to contradict #13 on page 5 where it states that, “When used in compliance with the Recycled Water Policy, the uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria or other standards set by State Water Board and Regional Water Board for protection of public health, and all applicable state and federal water quality laws, the State Water Board finds the recycled water is safe for approved uses…..”  (emphasis added)  This certainly seems like a legal inconsistency!

Need to include Precautionary Principal:  In regard to unregulated toxins, the Order fails to give credence to a significant body of science on endocrine disruption and low dose effects and insists that it is safe to irrigate schools and parks with tertiary wastewater on the assumption that Water Code 13050(n) is correct in defining recycled water as “….water which, as a result of treatment of waste, is suitable for a direct beneficial use or a controlled use that would not otherwise occur and is therefore considered a valuable resource.”

The Precautionary Principle, adopted by the City of San Francisco a few years ago, and having widespread credibility in Europe, appears to have little weight among most California water officials.  (The Precautionary Principle, as defined on the web, means:  the principle that the introduction of a new product or process whose ultimate effects are disputed or unknown should be resisted. Many more detailed versions are available.)

 Four main goals of the Precautionary Principle include….

  • 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 included and/or increased.

 Problems with conventional toxicity determinations and standards…..EPA currently requires the establishment of conclusive proof of harm for each hazardous chemical before taking regulatory action, which can take many years, as evidenced by the legislation to update the Toxic Substances Control Act. Potential health and environmental impacts are not considered when corporations design new products. Government must wait until an overwhelming body of evidence of harm is accumulated before intervention takes place.

Polluters and their lobbyists interfere to slow down regulatory process in regard to their products’ toxins. We read with great skepticism that adherence to Title 22 will assure that human exposures to tertiary wastewater irrigation are safe. Mere annual monitoring of priority pollutants (150 or so out of about 84,000 chemicals in market products) at the treatment plants of the various facilities in the District is required, and then we are not certain that the testing reflects and utilizes the most up to date equipment and methodology.

Title 22 does not fully insure protection of public health….The regulatory focus of wastewater irrigation relies mostly on Title 22.  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.  Most chronic diseases are 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.

Application of wastewater to the landscape or crop at agronomic rates is supposed to prevent over irrigation and therefore provide great safety in application. However, we are not sure that actual practices in place are sufficient to assure this is being and will always be implemented properly.  Yet appropriate applications at all times would go a long way towards making the project less risky and more acceptable to the public, especially in regards to health and safety.   We would assume that soil types, weather, wind, plants irrigated, impervious surfaces, etc. would all being considered, if one can assume full monitoring and reporting takes place.

Given the equipment that is commonly used and which appears prone to over spray, we wonder to what extent agronomic rates have been successfully applied in the past?  How is success determined?  Are rates set automatically?  How often do they change?  Must they be checked daily or hourly to be implemented properly?  What reports are kept on daily applications?  We also wonder about spray drift in wind.  The sprays we have seen did not seem to control that.  In other words, the intent of the rules are admirable, but do no good if not monitored and fully applied.   It appears that site monitoring is only required monthly, which would be totally inadequate for assessing full compliance with requirements.   There is a double message here: irrigators have all these rules to follow, but you don’t have to monitor very often so it won’t be a burden.  All you have to do is declare that all is okay and turn in a report.

State and Regional Boards are authorized to require standards that really protect the environment, along with standards applicable to water quality and wildlife. But the Order emphasizes the role of Title 22 (Uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria) throughout the document while environment laws, declared to be in force, appear to be much less defined.  The existence of other powers, meant to protect wildlife, such as Water Code Section 13050, that states, “The use of recycled water shall not cause pollution or nuisance”, are more casually mentioned, and much less specific, absent detailed specifications similar to Title 22.

While Regional Boards have the power to set further standards, specificity as to what those standards should consist of is not revealed here, especially if they appear to block facilitation of reuse.  In the meantime, our Regional Board has little staff time to do much of anything regarding implementation.  Right now there is one staff person to do all or most of the NPDES permits in Sonoma County, and perhaps other counties as well.  In fact, most of the record keeping and over sight will be by these new authorities being set up and we are unclear as to the precise role of the Regional Boards.  While there may be adequate regulatory power available, the ability to enforce seems very limited.

(Note:  In our experience, the Regional Board may have taken some enforcement actions over the years behind the scenes that we don’t know about.   RRWPC’s past complaints about Rohnert Park’s irrigation runoff have not been publically addressed by the Regional Board and we have discovered that the same over-irrigation on certain sites seems to continue.  Santa Rosa changed their irrigation to night time and we cannot see what is happening or photograph it although we have noticed water stains on curbs in areas where we know they irrigate.)

Examples of toxic exposures causing health impacts are many….It is important to note some of the environmental tragedies that have occurred of late that is likely a result to some extent of environmental pollution. There is a great deal of information available on 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. (See Attachment #5 & #6) Since approval of that policy, we have learned the following, 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;
  • In 2014, millions of dead fish were found all over the world;
  • A huge (and unusual) number of baby seals and sea lions were reported sick and dying along the California coast in recent years;
  • Disappearing frogs with their immune systems weakened by chemicals, and many displayed the development of intersex features;
  • Bees dying off the last several years from pesticide exposures,
  • Starfish dying in huge numbers along the western United States Coast,
  • And Roundup (Glyphosate), the most widely used pesticide has been labeled a probable carcinogen. (According to Press Democrat 3-27-15, Sonoma County used almost 69,000 pounds of Roundup in 2012, with most of that on edible crops. If you add remnant toxins in wastewater runoff, including excreted pharmaceuticals, you have a lovely mix of poisons!)

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.
  • 23 babies were born with rare birth defect (anencephaly) in Central Washington from 2010 to 2013 and no one knows the cause.  Also the dramatic number of microcephaly cases thought to be caused by the Zika virus may be linked to pesticide exposures according to some scientists.
  • In 2009, studies showed that declining male fertility in UK fish AND human males is linked to wide variety of chemicals found in water. USGS has identified significant number of cases of androgyny in fish in Northeast rivers.
  • 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, fewer male children are being born world-wide than ever before.
  • Low doses of controversial insecticide may harm friendly pests. (March 2014)
  • Autism, thought by some 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.  Endocrine disruption during pregnancy is suspected.
  • Hospitals may discharge 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 remaining doubled during treatment.)

While all of the circumstances above were probably not caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals in wastewater irrigation runoff, they are indicators of unacknowledged problems that are most likely affected by the many toxins in our environment that are ignored by this Order (and by Scientific Panel).  These toxins are everywhere, and most certainly in wastewater, which accumulates the raw waste from a multitude of sources and then contends that they disappear during waste treatment processes.

Furthermore, it has been determined that in some cases toxins affect the immune system which then causes tendency to having greater susceptibility to other disease causing organisms and/or toxins.  To determine, as the Scientific Panel did, that no monitoring for Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC’s) is necessary for urban landscape applications of tertiary wastewater, is to totally ignore most of the biological peer reviewed studies.


RRWPC has been lobbying for studies on endocrine disruption in fish in our area for a long time.  In light of severe salmonid declines, it would seem important to know all factors contributing to that decline.  The cases noted above are just the tip of the ice berg,  RRWPC is on a list serve where we receive a multitude of similar alerts every single day.

 Scientific Panel’s determinations regarding toxins…..In regard to toxins, the six-member Scientific Panel determined, based on questionable assumptions, that Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) do not require monitoring when spraying urban landscapes with tertiary wastewater.   It was their view, while ignoring the Precautionary Principle, that more study was needed and monitoring protocols needed to be established.  We do not agree that this is a safe approach.  (Note: Title 22 focuses on pathogens, and we have seen studies that indicate that the minimal number of bacteria allowed to be released into the environment from wastewater, are increasingly of the anti-biotic resistant kind, something not mentioned or dealt with in the Order.)  (Attachment #5) And they gave little credence and no monitoring support to the low dose effect of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

 Some impacts of endocrine disruption and toxic exposures:  In the meantime, burgeoning science had 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)

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. (Attachment #6: Letter and Attachment #7: Study)

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 [2], 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.” [5]

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 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 needed to be monitored, determined that it was not necessary.

Linda Sheehan formerly of California Coastkeeper, is very informed on the topic of endocrine disruption and knows an enormous amount about State and Regional Water Boards and the rules that govern them.  (Attachment #8) 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.”   RRWPC totally agrees!

The Order makes the statement, (page 13 #e) “Monitoring of health-based CECs or performance indicator CECs is not required for recycled water used for landscape irrigation due to the low risk of ingestion of the water.”  We question that conclusion since so much of the irrigating is done in schools, parks, and fields where children, who are most vulnerable to these chemicals, play.  Furthermore, they place their bare hands on the ground, on features in the park, etc. and then often put their hands to their mouth without thought.  We all know this happens, so the statement is patently untrue.

Then on the same page in #f, it states that:  “Perchlorate is an endocrine disrupting chemical that may be present in hypochlorite solutions, which is a type of disinfectant used for wastewater…The blending of sources of irrigation water will further reduce any concentration of perchlorate present in recycled water and will unlikely to affect beneficial uses or degrade groundwater quality.” (exact quote)

This quotation assumes that perchlorate remains intact in entire process, but is only diminished by an increase of volume of water and other substances when discharged.  This ignores well accepted theory that many chemicals are altered by the ones they come in contact with and wastewater is a blend of many different substances that have unknown capability of merging to produce more toxic substances.  This has not been considered in this document at all. (Attachment #9: Note: We can’t immediately find our articles on this but know they exist and will try to find them in the next day or two.  If you can’t accept them after the deadline, that’s okay.)

Is definition of ‘incidental runoff’ changed?  There is a general acknowledgement in the Order that wastewater discharge requirements should apply, with the possible exception of incidental runoff that is defined as, “…unintended small amounts 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 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.” (Santa Rosa’s Reclamation Permit based on State’s Recycled Water Policy and North Coast Basin Plan)

In contrast, the definition of ‘incidental runoff’ in the Order states (page D-3) “Unintended small amounts (volume) of runoff from recycled water use areas, such as unintended, minimal over-spray from sprinklers that escapes the recycled water use area.”  Does the Order actually change the extent of the definition by not including a substantial portion of the original?

Does past performance say something about the future?  This Order is not looking at the whole picture.  Most of the water laws referenced in the first part of the Order have been around a long time.  We wonder why summer water quality is so impaired if clean water laws are working well? This Order’s stated goal is to make second hand water much easier to authorize in order to leave potable supplies in streams. (Most water experts admit that even the most highly treated wastewater has remnant chemical waste in it.  Numerous studies have focused on pharmaceuticals getting into our water supply as well.  This is a serious problem that is not being adequately addressed. See article “Drugging the Environment” from “The Scientist”. Attachment #10)

The monitoring and enforcement language does not support meaningful enforcement of this Order.  What is left unclear is the means with which certain uses of wastewater are considered safe and others are not, especially in light of the burgeoning scientific evidence that many of the laws were written at a time when the scientific information was not available.  Now that it is, there should be an obligation for the State to be truthful with citizens about potential harm.

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 give the public an image of its being totally safe. Now the term of choice is ‘purified water’.

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.  (We spoke to North Marin water officials about this and got the run around.)

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).  We think the main difference is that in winter the wastewater discharge comes under an NPDES Permit, and in summer it comes under Title 22, which only deals with certain aspects of public health and not toxins.

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 does not cover runoff.)

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.  They don’t mention anything about chemicals in the disinfection process however, that cause leaching of metals (lead for instance) into the drinking water.

And 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, schoolyards, golf courses, pools; it can be watered on organic vegetables and other food products. (Studies have shown that remnant toxins in wastewater end up in edible portion of plant and can contaminate soils. See Attachment #1) The basis for allowing this latter practice was based on one five year study in Monterey in 1987, which determined that it was safe to eat raw food crops irrigated with tertiary wastewater even though subsequent studies prove the opposite. The only pollutants considered were the conventional ones monitored in NPDES permits.  Endocrine disrupting chemicals and many others were not addressed.

Hired wordsmith consultants reframe terminology….Water utilities, WateReuse, and the State Water Board itself hired public perception consultants recently to persuade the public that PURIFIED water is almost like potable.  The following quote appeared in a WateReuse document entitled “Marketing Nonpotable Recycled Water”.  After a workshop participant expressed concerns about having her children play in fields that have been irrigated with wastewater, citizens were told, (p. 51):

Recycled water is treated and cleaned to water quality standards far higher than its intended use; in fact, it is cleaned to a level that is safe for humans to swim in. Recycled water is always carried in separate pipes and signs are posted wherever it is used. As an added precaution, laws prohibit spraying recycled water on drinking water fountains, picnic tables, and benches. The use of recycled water is strictly monitored by the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Health Services, and other public health agencies. In over 75 years of use in California, there has never been a documented case of sickness from contact with recycled water.”

 No mention is made here about the various treatment levels of recycled water and how, even at the highest level, remnant toxins remain.  Yes, the Department of Health has stated that recycled water is safe to swim in, but that is related to their concern for pathogens and does not relate to toxins.  In fact, (and ironically) chemicals required to keep the water safe for swimming are considered highly toxic and legally prohibited from running off into streams by the Regional Water Board, even though remnant chlorine in the water treatment process is very low. Here what came up on the web about “chlorine toxicity”: “Chlorine is a chemical that prevents bacteria from growing. Chlorine poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in (inhales) chlorine….. Chlorine, which reacts with water in and out of the body to form hydrochloric acid and hypochlorous acid. Both are extremely poisonous.”

Furthermore, a recent article that came our way entitled “Chloramine plus Lead Pipes plus Fluoride Equals Contaminated tap water” (Attachment #11) indicates that wastewater with chloramine (considered a safe alternative to chlorine) in contact with lead pipes contributes to toxicity.  This is never discussed when looking at impacts of these projects. It states, “Chloramine itself has been associated with severe respiratory toxicity and skin sensitivity. Overall, despite ongoing research, water treatment chemistry is still insufficiently understood by scientists and specific water quality outcomes depend on the particular chemical interactions found in each water treatment and distribution system.”  This is amazing that with all the specificity about protecting drinking water, it turns out that the chemicals that protect water from bacterial contamination, also cause leaching of toxic metals into the supply.

And then another non sequitur, while wastewater in the pipes is very highly regulated by health departments and State law is very specific about its protection, nevertheless, as soon as the wastewater leaves the pipe, it is deemed entirely safe for most human contact.  While direct contact with the mouth is not approved, there is an assumption that children will not be harmed when playgrounds, parks, schools, and other areas habited by small children, ‘incidentally’ over-irrigate.  One explanation might be that these regulations are so out-of-date, they don’t keep up with current scientific knowledge.  This is a serious problem for human and environmental health!

Regarding reference to the signs warning about recycled water in our area (above quote), they are half the size of a piece of notebook paper and often colored in muted tones and barely visible.  Anyway, why would the signs matter if “….the water is treated to a standard far higher than its intended use”?  Either this statement is untrue or based on false assumptions and inadequate regulations.

We’ve taken photos of bus stops and benches saturated with wastewater, contrary to the statement above. (We have pictures of the same bus stop taken before and after we reported problem to the Regional Board.  The last two years or so, we have not seen the problem again, but the first picture was taken about six years ago.)  A few years after authorities were shown photographs, the drenching of bus stops appeared to cease.  Regarding the claim of no reported illnesses, the types of illness, such as cancer, developmental disabilities, and chronic diseases initiated by toxic chemical exposures are often slow to reveal themselves and thereby usually impossible to clearly identify initial cause. And as for the strict monitoring by CAL EPA, it’s my understanding that they don’t have resources or staff for monitoring and rely on the Regional Board, which is also short on enforcement staff.

Stanford official finds treated wastewater delicious to drink…..I was recently notified of a Legislative Hearing in Sacramento by the Assembly Select Committee on Water Consumption and Alternative Sources, Richard Gordon: Chair, on Urban Water Recycling and Reuse in California, that took place on Wed. Jan. 20th, 2016, at the CA State Capital. Speaker Dr. Newsha Ajami, Director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford University, stated at the workshop that she had tasted the recycled wastewater and it was delicious, and she couldn’t wait to taste the wastewater they will be putting directly into her own drinking water supply.  According to the Agenda, at the end of the meeting, they had a ‘tasting’ of purified water from Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Advanced Recycled Water Treatment Facility.  We were not present.

While we realize that this draft Order applies to the entire State, from our perspective, it emphasizes the need for water quantity over quality.  While there is a lot happening in our area on the conservation front, there are also concerns that agriculture is using much more than its fair share and that antiquated water laws need to be changed.  We realize that the State is starting to go in the direction of making agriculture accountable for the water they use, but in the meantime, our experience with irrigation practices in the urban areas (We can’t go on large agricultural parcels to check their irrigation practices.) indicates many problems exist.  We are very concerned about irrigation practices and the probability that monitoring, recording, and enforcing irrigation runoff has not been adequately addressed.

The Anti Degradation Policy addresses maintaining high quality waters, but what about preventing already impaired water bodies from getting worse?   The Russian River has been touted on many occasions as having very high water quality.  That may be true with some water perimeters, but serious impairments such as excessive phosphorus on lower river beaches for the entire 2014 summer recreation season, along with impairment listings for temperature, bacteria, and excessive sediments, have not been adequately addressed. (Mercury is also excessive in places, especially in Laguna tributary according to USGS studies and should be studied further.)  Also, the Regional Board has not taken any action so far as we know, to place the lower river on the 303(d) list for nutrients (mistakenly we believe).  Nevertheless, all care should be taken to not make the situation worse, especially with high recreational use in summer. Furthermore, there appears to be a dearth of information on sediment toxicity.

Focus on saving water and less on water quality….The goal and focus of this Order is to save potable water by using recycled wastewater for many uses.

Based on the many studies by United States Geological Survey (USGS) on toxins in waterways and endocrine disruptions and other examples of harm to wildlife and fish, uncertainty about whether the wastewater is safe enough for human contact and its discharge into waterways is a most reasonable consideration.  Health departments fail to consider toxic and endocrine disrupting exposures in setting health standards. There are currently about 80,000 chemicals on the market, mostly unregulated and safety unknown.  Where human and environmental health, are at stake, caution should prevail.  Furthermore, aquatic life is more seriously affected and we may be destroying the food chain for higher species that serve humans as a source of nourishment.  Now we can’t be sure whether seafood is safe.  This became especially clear when the recent crab season was cancelled. (Attachment # 12)  But this Order does little but give a sales pitch for reuse.

Background information skewed….The Background Information portion of this document focuses on drought and is very weak, for reasons we give throughout this comment letter, on addressing the complexity of actual conditions in waterways. Instead, the document provides information and regulations that supposedly demonstrate the ‘safety’ of recycled water.  For instance, there is no discussion of remnant toxins in wastewater and their potential impacts at very low doses.  There is no discussion of possible outcomes from irrigation runoff and the definition of incidental runoff is greatly watered down from that which occurs in the State’s Recycled Water Policy.  It is usually the case where the law is unclear, vague, duplicative, contradictory, etc. and simply inadequate to address the complexity of the world we live in.

The truth is, when you poison one species, you ultimately poison us all.  The use of massive amounts of pesticides ends up in waterways and works its way up the food chain. In fact, many of the pests being poisoned have developed resistance and newer and stronger poisons need to be created to do the job.  In the meantime they have unintended consequences such as the death of the butterflies.  They are in our soils, our water, our aquatic life, and probably our fish, our frogs, our birds, and much more.  When babies are born with microcephaly, we don’t know if it’s the carrier of the Zika virus or the chemicals used to destroy the mosquito that caused this birth defect.

In fact, the Order appears to white wash the problems inherent in this action.  The sentence (page 2) in #7 states, “Recycled water” means water which, as a result of treatment of waste, is suitable for a direct beneficial use or a controlled use that would not otherwise occur and is therefore considered a valuable resource”.  There is an unproven assumption in this statement that does not hold up scientifically.  While this sentence may appear in the Water Code, as it stands, it tells us nothing about the safety of the water for the purposes proposed.  Instead, this Order relies on Title 22 to assert the safety of the recycled water even though totally inadequate for assessing the water quality needs of the environment. (There is loose referral to other regulations that apply to recycled water where discharge occurs, but we have found that our Regional Board is most reluctant to, and has almost never, imposed fines for any but the most excessive and extensive spills.  The incremental amounts of pollutants, even when significant, appear to be mostly unaddressed.

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. There is a need to adequately fund the Regional Boards for the ability to enforce measures that still exist.  Reliance on utilities to self-enforce while requiring limited inspections and monitoring will 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.

Concern that nonpoint runoff will be greatly increased:  Incremental runoff incidences consistently appear to be ignored by Regional Board staff, even when occurring 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.)

When runoff complaint was filed against Santa Rosa, irrigators decided to irrigate at night, so proving runoff would be very difficult.  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 it is 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 actually get regulated.

Anyone can be an Administrator or user in charge of wastewater applications….Anyone can fill out a form saying they will comply with irrigation rules, pay a fee, and Voila!  They are an administrator.  Although they pledge to adhere to the Basin Plan, probably no one will ever know how the irrigator actually uses the wastewater, just so they say the right things on the form, such as compliance with Title 22 and Basin Plan.  There will probably be little or no enforcement because of inadequate funding, and we may ultimately have to say good-by to recreation and fish and wildlife and the lower river economy. Without adequate staff funding, we don’t see how Regional Board will enforce what has been turned into more indirect discharges.  (Only very large spills of about 100,000 gallons or more get enforced now.)

Prohibitions…The Prohibitions on page 18 would be meaningless without enforcement.  In any case, this Order waters down requirements such that there’s not much to enforce anyway.  #5 states that, “…..incidental runoff of recycled water shall not result in water quality less than that prescribed in water quality control plans or policies unless authorized….”  And #8 states, “The use of recycled water in violation of the applicable Regional Water Board’s Basin Plan is prohibited.” It would have to be a pretty gross violation for anyone to notice.  It appears that ‘incidental runoff’ has come to mean anything less than a major spill that is visible to the general public.

Specifications….After focusing mostly on specifics of meeting Title 22 water regulations, on pages 19-20 there are a list of specifications which lists just about all the water law in the codes.  One lawyer who has expertise on water law, said he didn’t know all of the laws mentioned.  To us it seemed totally un-thought out and disorganized.  A double message comes through this Order to on the one hand to make compliance easier, and the very weak Title 22 is used to justify doing that, but then this half a page of specifications brings in all kinds of other regulations whose role is not fully explained.  This includes (#g-page 20) which states, “Any applicable water quality related CEQA mitigation measure.”  How can this be possible if they have thrown out CEQA from this process?

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.  Local wastewater storage ponds go down considerably in a drought 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 nor much wastewater available in drought, so problem is still not solved. Californians are pigs with water and we need to get used to using much less, especially with agriculture using the major supply.

We need to think twice about growing water intense crops and we need to do more to foster and support innovative thinking about ways to stretch our supplies much better than we do.  And we need to come down hard on rich people who think their money will buy them all the water they want for their decorative gardens and swimming pools.

Studies on cost effectiveness of such projects need to 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.  This situation calls for analysis.  By eliminating CEQA, you eliminate public input into project consideration.

Finally, writing these comments has been a major effort.  This document is filled with inconsistencies and appears to be a hodge-podge of requirements while also appearing to facilitate more recycling. Site monitoring will be required once a month to determine if overwatering is occurring.   How can one know if runoff is occurring if site inspections are once a month?

My over all impression is that it won’t accomplish what it intends; there is so much here, with few enforcement mechanisms, limited and ambiguous enforcement capabilities by agencies, may possibly result in greater pollution of our waterways than we have now.  Administrators are expected to operate their irrigation so as to not pollute waterways, but especially in the case of a single operator who is an administrator, other than self-reporting, there does not appear to be much enforcement.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this General Order.  We hope the issues raised in this letter will be noticed and addressed.

Sincerely,  Brenda Adelman

 PS:  As we are near the deadline, we will send this letter in now and then work on the list of 12 attachments.  We hope to have a complete list by the 12:00 noon deadline today (February 22, 2016).


 Real world examples of irrigation problems….What follows below is the result of our study of wastewater irrigation in our local area.  It illustrates our concerns about real world irrigation practices.  We believe the ‘devil is in the details’ and that this Order eviscerates many of the protections while pretending they are still in force.   There is no question in our minds that the implementation of this program using this Order, will result in extensive additional and devastating pollution to our waterways.  It demonstrates a lack of concern for and knowledge about natural water systems and disregards their functions.

 Incidental runoff reporting concerns:  RRWPC has had the following concerns with irrigation reports provided by City of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park: (we 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 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. Number of inches and gallon amounts of water applied to some parcels seems to indicate they are not.
  • Report forms inadequate:
    • 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.
    • Neither exact time of inspection noted on report, nor hours of irrigation. Report can be made on runoff many hours after irrigation occurred.
    • Where there is overflow, no report on amount of wastewater irrigated that day and no way of knowing how much may have run off.
    • 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?
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • No ACLs by Regional Board on entities having multiple runoff incidents over many years.
    • 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”?)
    • 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.
    • Nothing in files about how agronomic rates are determined and it appears that some irrigators may not follow them at all.

Repeated irrigation runoff happens year after year….We include the following information to give examples of problems identified.

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, RRWPC submitted extensive comments on this issue in comments to North Coast Regional Board on Santa Rosa’s NPDES and Reclamation Permit, authorized in December of 2013.

 Irrigation amounts presented in quarterly, annual, and other reports on irrigation practices, 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 City promised that shutting off repeat offenders would only occur as a last resort, they have never cut anyone off.  We have heard them state that they probably never will. It would seem like this Order should identify the types of situations where cut offs would be appropriate.  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 was 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 designated staff persons are 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, only 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.)

Usually the amounts of reported runoff identified and reported 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 application rates utilized in urban areas?  It’s unclear whether agronomic rates were developed for individual parcels in our area.  Reclamation Permit called 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 this Order gives adequate guidance on what should be included before any of the various irrigation applications can be commenced.

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.  (We had been told they were implementing agronomic rates.)

RRWPC filed a complaint on Santa Rosa’s runoff during freezing weather in early 2012.  After that, the City started irrigating at night and we were unable to track runoff any longer.  We do wonder how agronomic rates would change and how much less wastewater can be applied, when irrigation occurs at night.  To what extent is project even viable if too little water application is allowed at night?  Furthermore, we question to what extent people will follow all the complex rules if no one appears to be watching?

There is a list of all irrigators and the amount they irrigate at the back of Attachment G in Santa Rosa’s current permit (rules apply to Rohnert Park as well).  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.


#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.

Here are some of our recommendations for best management practices 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 and incentivized 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.