RRWPC Comments, September 11, 2017: Surface Water Augmentation Regulations

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations.  While I realize that a lot of work has gone into this, we have the same reservations that we had during the process for the Recycled Water Policy and subsequent documents released for comment on this and related topics since 2008.

We are concerned about the Board’s proposed rulemaking regarding the use of treated wastewater to augment reservoir supplies used for drinking water.  RRWPC, as you may recall, has submitted numerous comments on the Recycled Water Policy and its Amendment, the Report to Legislature on DPR, and General Order WDRs for Recycled Water Use.  We have also appeared in person before the Board at least four different times to discuss our concerns (many more times before the Regional Board).  We have provided the Board with numerous documents containing peer reviewed studies concerning impacts of very low doses of minute amounts of estrogenic chemicals, some of which we attach to this letter (studies, not chemicals). In those comments, there are links to many biological, peer reviewed, scientific studies and articles.

The outcome?  No one at the State has either addressed our concerns in a meaningful way or disputed them (that we recall).  No one at the State has commented on the many peer reviewed scientific studies that assure us there is no safe level of an endocrine disrupting chemical in our bodies.  No one has commented on the many examples in nature indicating that wildlife are suffering, and perhaps dying because of these exposures.  Frogs in particular have been shown to grow multiple sets of male and female reproductive organs, mostly due to exposure to atrazine at a level as minute as parts per billion range.  There are many examples of hermaphrodite changes taking place in gulls as well, as a result of extremely low exposures.  In humans, these chemicals have causal links to cancer, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, birth defects (especially reproductive), Parkinson’s, diabetes, autism, and transgender issues, etc. Meeting drinking water MCL’s says nothing about avoiding these problems, and unfortunately, Health Departments have avoided this issue.

Further, to my knowledge, no study has been examined of all the many combined exposures experienced by any individual, and perhaps it would be an impossible study to design and still have scientific credibility.  For example, people are exposed to toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals when they touch most store receipts and then use a disinfectant wipe (or perhaps it’s the other way around).  In combination, these two chemicals are much more toxic than each is separately. Also, two completely benign chemicals (those weren’t) can combine into one toxic one.  There are at least 1000 chemicals that have been identified as having endocrine disruption properties and more are being discovered every day.  Yet the Scientific Panel just examined epidemiological studies and not the actual biological studies conducted by endocrinologists themselves.  (Do you know that male sperm counts have decreased on average by 50%?)

Based on studies I have seen, I’m not sure there are (yet) reliable technologies that can regularly remove all endocrine disrupting chemicals from the waste stream.  As of a few years ago, even Dr. Crook asserted that in a document he wrote. (See my article and links to Environmental Perspectives).  Furthermore, there is no endocrinologist on the Scientific Panel.  There doesn’t seem to be much discussion about endocrinology and yet the Scientific Panel authorized the proposed project as being safe for human health.  We are sorry that the focus is on accomplishing advanced treatment and getting the toxins out, and not on a range of biological results.

There are many uncertainties about the reliability of wastewater treatment effectiveness in regard to the multitude of chemicals in our environment.  What happens when there is a major earthquake or a huge hurricane and the treatment system goes down for lengthy periods? As systems comes to rely on merging the waste with the real water, what happens if things fall apart for lengthy periods? What happens when a serious human error occurs (even the most highly qualified workers have slip-ups)?  Where will fresh, healthy water come from under those circumstances?  The management of these systems seems so complex, there must be times when things fall apart, and what then?

This analysis should at least acknowledge the existence of all the potential exposures to chemicals that one comes across in daily life.  We constantly hear about chemicals in children’s toys, cloths, mother’s milk, wine, food, etc.  Furthermore, while the water delivered to the tap may be touted as perfectly clean, we don’t know if the pipes they flow through are free of noxious toxins. Perhaps some of the worst industrial toxins are occasionally monitored, but the vast accumulation of a huge multitude of toxins in our daily lives, and which come together in the waste stream, is seldom mentioned.  Perhaps the small amount ending up in the drinking water will be all that’s needed to cause developmental problems in young children (USGS has found numerous toxins in drinking water nationwide).

It may be that endocrine impacts are the worst-case outcome, and yet it’s one that has been ignored as the State moves forward in the practice of adding treated wastewater to the drinking water supply.  (One article I attach by Peter Myers very clearly explains the endocrine, low dose response.)  Finally, the adage that the dose makes the poison, is out of date and only confounds the issue in light of all the new science coming forth in the last 25 years.  There is a huge divide among scientists in this regard, on the scale of those who believe in global warming and those who don’t.  How many Irma’s do we need before all people are convinced?  It doesn’t appear as though the ‘new’ thinkers have been part of this process.

RRWPC is in the midst of developing comments for the Russian River Pathogen TMDL and can only give these current documents a brief scrutiny.  But they really don’t seem much different than prior documents that we have studied. (We attach two of our most recent comment letters, and their still timely attachments and links.) We would think that CEQA or its equivalent, would demand that you seriously address the issues raised by the documents we keep submitting.  By authorizing the regulations, you are forwarding the development of new expensive infrastructure.  The further you go along this track, the harder it will be to stop the train, since government gets invested in staying on track.

We are also concerned about the statement on page 2 of the “Initial Statement of Reasons”: “Although the absence of SWA regulations wouldn’t preclude the permitting of SWA projects, the adoption of uniform criteria in the form of SWA regulations is expected to streamline the permitting process.”  We are concerned about allowing permits and streamlined projects moving forward until the concerns expressed in our letter regarding potential impacts from endocrine disrupting chemicals, are fully addressed.


  • The Initial Statement of Reasons mentions the need to meet appropriate levels of toxins in monitoring. We can’t comment on the selected MCL’s, other than to say, if they are not based on biologic studies that determine health impacts to specific human populations, such as pregnant women, infants, children, lactating mothers, people with compromised immune systems, and include addressing the concept of low dose impacts, then the studies you DO look at may not provide the full range of risk possibilities.
  • On page 16 it mentions that a report will be required if more than 10% of samples for quarter don’t meet surrogate or operational standard. That means that 10% can exceed current legal standards, not to mention exceed the true level at which harm can occur with ED (Endocrine Disrupting) chemicals. (What repercussions will occur if it happens more than once?) Furthermore, it indicates surrogates will be relied upon, which means the vast number of chemicals and chemical combinations will not be tested.
  • While drinking water treatment methods will be used rather than wastewater treatment methods (less stringent), we still don’t feel secure that the levels allowed will prevent harm. The concept of ‘the dose makes the poison’ doesn’t apply with most ED chemicals. Furthermore, it seems as though the mechanisms to protect drinking water quality where wastewater is being used, should be far more stringent than what is being proposed here and may not consider the multitude of interactions with other sources. For instance, I wonder about aging infrastructure and leaking toxins from pipes.  Are any lead pipes still used?  Does the plastic pipe leach endocrine disrupting chemicals in its life history?  Furthermore, there are many pipes involved after the final test and before reaching the mouth of a human.  What are the potential effects, especially in poor neighborhoods where upkeep is minimal, to the water actually being used?  Is that considered at all, especially since many of these toxins bioaccumulate?
  • Since the State does not consider endocrine disruption controls as yet, how will having certified labs and workers help in regards to such exposures? It doesn’t seem as though quarterly monitoring will be adequate to control toxins that harm in the parts per billion range.  Also, you will be dealing with surrogates, so most chemical toxins won’t even be directly monitored.  This is a problem in relation to ED’s.
  • It is likely that the treatment processes will not be able to keep out all the pharmaceuticals, let alone their synthesized combinations either. This is an issue of great concern, along with the current crisis with antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotics are found in meats and many food products.  The more they are used, the more resistance is uncovered.  In the meantime, pharmaceutical companies are doing almost nothing to develop new antibiotics, since they are not a big money maker and new ones are expensive to develop. Are pathogens in the water tested for antibiotic resistance?  How can quality of drinking water be assured if not?
  • In regards to unregulated chemicals, we don’t understand how the public can be assured that the analytical methods chosen will be adequate to protect their health. It seems as though the cart is before the horse here.  Similar comment for log/10 removals.  It seems like possible treatment barriers should be well established before implementation begins.  What makes me nervous here (page 22) is the statement, “Failures of a shorter duration (i.e., 24 hours) are to be reported to the Regional Board no later than ten days after month in which incident(s) occurred.”  And, “The criteria are designed to assure a safe, treatable source of water for a SWTP, not the uniformly high quality required of finished drinking water.”  Some failures may be more serious than others and all should be reported immediately, if possible.
  • How does Table 1 on page 20 relate to the new bacteria standard that is about to be considered by the State Water Board? Will the standards in this document match the new one you are about to adopt?  Since health professionals seem to take more care with pathogens than with toxins, hopefully we can trust the numerical limits established for pathogens. (Surface water conditions are considered before addition of treated wastewater.) Communication glitches occur from time to time, and with people’s health more at stake in this process, what will happen if there is a breakdown and treatment levels are not obtained because of missed communication? What are the enforcement actions that might be taken to assure all treatment steps are completed appropriately?
  • Why is quarterly monitoring of wastewater to be added to reservoir, considered adequate, especially since that appears to be the most risky of the drinking water/ wastewater combination? We also wonder how frequently pathogens will be monitored?
  • Overall, the level of monitoring is very detailed although relatively infrequent. As more toxins may be added in the future, this is likely to increase. (Will this compromise public health be at any time?)  As I write this, Irma is moving through Florida, and everyone is anxious about the level of damage that might occur to an entire state. Here in California we have earthquakes, floods and fires to contend with.  Since this technology relies on extremely careful monitoring, what happens when things break down?  How will all of this work during emergencies and how much toxicity might customers be exposed to?  It is my understanding that tests are available for EDs that are effective and relatively inexpensive (I could be wrong about that.) and focus on surrogates that have proven to cover the big picture.  Could the State look into this?  (Treatment plants can be down for weeks after this disaster.  What plans are in place for a situation where treated wastewater is added to reservoirs that might be impacted.  What happens in an emergency?)
  • On page 26 it is mentioned that additional monitoring may occur for chemical toxins that are expected to exist in the municipal wastewater. What would it take to get the State to require testing for EDs on a regular basis?  If the State won’t even acknowledge the existence of low dose effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, what good would it do to measure all the others?  If we were to evaluate the basis for the burgeoning explosion of massive health care facilities in major population centers, would EDs be a big part of the picture?
  • Page 32 requires that an Expert Panel or an independent scientific advisory panel, make a finding that SWA criteria adequately protect public health. In our view, unless these groups also include analysis by an endocrinologist with outstanding bona fides, their views and endorsements are incomplete. The scientific discoveries over the last 25 years regarding endocrine disruption, an aspect that affects almost all levels of health for humans, pets, wildlife and aquatic life, cannot be ignored without serious ramifications.  Some people believe that this issue is every bit as important as global warming.  As mentioned earlier, Eds cause a large range of reproductive problems, developmental problems, illnesses and life-threatening diseases.  How can you not do more with this regulation before you head into programs that continue to inject disease causing chemicals directly into our bodies, our children and our planet?

Two Schools of Scientific Thought…RRWPC has been aware that many scientists are of the old-school approach that believes in testing chemicals for toxicity separately (not looking at the effects of large combinations of toxins) and developing legal standards based on these singular effects.  They also believe, we are told, that conventional pollutants are the main concern (I may not be expressing this appropriately, but I think you know what I mean.) and that EDs also appear in nature substances that we ingest, and as such, are not dangerous.  Also, many believe that ‘the dose makes the poison’ and that no harm can occur with very small doses.

Then there is the new school (last 25 years or so) that feels they have demonstrated, that with the endocrine system, which governs most of our organ functions, that assumption is turned on its head.  (Please see attachments.)

Although your expert panelists have impressive vitae’s, it appears they have not advised about low dose impacts (as far as I can tell).  Furthermore, I have learned some things about the National Research Institute (NWRI) who, at the request of the State Water Board, established an expert panel to convene pursuant to CA Water Code, Sections 13562(a)(2) and 13565(a). Their report of 10-31-16 Entitled “Expert Panel Finding on California State Water Resources Control Board’s Proposed Uniform Water Recycling Criteria for Surface Water Augmentation”

It appears that the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) also weighed in with information on the safety of augmentation of drinking water sources with treated wastewater through their consultant role with San Diego Indirect Potable Reuse/Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project. Their general conclusion was that reservoir augmentation was safe if all treatment processes are adequately maintained.

But we can’t help but wonder about the intellectual independence of this group, as they were called out by Wikipedia about possible conflict of interest.  If they were used to certify the prior findings of the State, and support previous regulations, then their intellectual independence may be compromised.

The State must be aware of the member agencies of nonprofit NWRI who pay $50,000 a year for membership and who seek to utilize (or already utilize) the augmentation of reservoirs with treated wastewater.  These are the proponents and NWRI members who take advantage of regulations to enable this system:

Inland Empire Utilities Agency

Irvine Ranch Water District

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Orange County Sanitation District

Orange County Water District

West Basin Municipal Water District

All of these entities are advocates for this use.

I googled NWRI on the web and came up with a Wikipedia entry which said this about NWRI:

“A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia’s content policies, particularly neutral point of view

Then Wikipedia explains their conflict of interest statement as follows:

Wikipedia’s conflict of interest statement:

Conflict of interest (COIediting involves contributing to Wikipedia about yourself, family, friends, clients, employers, or your financial and other relationships. Any external relationship can trigger a conflict of interest.[a]That someone has a conflict of interest is a description of a situation, not a judgment about that person’s opinions or integrity.[b]

COI editing is strongly discouraged on Wikipedia. It undermines public confidence, and it risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals and companies being promoted. Editors with a COI cannot know whether or how much it has influenced their editing. If COI editing causes disruption, an administrator may opt to place blocks on the involved accounts.

Editors with a COI, including paid editors, are expected to disclose it whenever they seek to influence an affected article’s content. Anyone editing for pay must disclose who is paying them, who the client is, and any other relevant affiliation; this is a requirement of the Wikimedia Foundation.[6] In addition, COI editors are generally advised not to edit affected articles directly, and to propose changes on talk pages instead.

When investigating COI editing, do not reveal the identity of editors against their wishes. Wikipedia’s policy against harassment, in particular the prohibition against disclosing personal information, takes precedence over this guideline. Editors discussing changes to this guideline should disclose whether they have been paid to edit Wikipedia.

RRWPC’s concerns about situation….

The reason RRWPC includes this conflict of interest material is to point out that use of any research by NWRI should fully disclose to the public that the person writing the article did not respect Wikipedia’s conflict of interest requirements.  RRWPC’s view is that if the State relied on this agency’s work in any way without full disclosure of the membership of the group, (individual scientists are listed, but not the agencies mentioned above who support the organization. We believe that it is inappropriate to not list that information since the Districts financially supporting the group are also the District’s aiming to be authorized through proposed regulations to implement the technology.

Also, we have another concern closely related to one above.  We know that a major effort involving this organization and State Water Board staff included public relations campaigns to convince people that drinking wastewater is a safe thing to do.  People were told it was very highly treated; that others used this wastewater to no harmful health effect, and that the State would assure it’s safety by regulating it carefully. (While the State may consider this truthful information, we don’t recall any downside to this practice being mentioned to the public.)  At least two professional public relation firms were hired to conduct the public opinion research.  In the survey questions I viewed, probably because endocrine disruption was not discussed from what I recall, the safety of this practice may have been misrepresented.  I believe that only an endocrinologist who is fully informed about current science in the field, could verify whether I am correct or not.