Water-Musings: Drinking Water

An article in the May 2018, issue of Harper’s Magazine discusses drinking water issues in Pretty Prairie, KS.

Many aspects of the situation described in this article are ubiquitous to rural communities throughout the country. These issues are summarized below. I have expanded on solution options based as per my experience with drinking water issues on the Central Coast of California.

  • What are some of the farming issues?
    • Market conditions and/or government policies favor farm consolidation; therefore, there are fewer people to address the issue.
    • Market conditions and/or government policies may promote over-production.
    • Margins are tight; therefore, every farmable acre counts.
    • Consumption of nitrogen fertilizers has substantially increased since the 1960s.(Note: An assumption would be this is fueled by over-use; however, this is also the result of increased agricultural efficiency per acre.)
    • Crop plants cannot utilize all of the fertilizer applied; therefore, it is present in the soil to leach into groundwater or run-off into surface water drinking supplies.
    • Growers are risk averse and fear yields losses or reduce quality if they reduce fertilizer use.
  • What are some of the potential farming solutions?
    • Delay decisions until circumstances demand action or technology improves to remove barriers.
    • Biotechnology may increase crop nitrogen use efficiency; thus reducing fertilizer application rates.
    • Biotechnology may better manage when nitrogen is available for plant uptake through slow release fertilizers or nitrification inhibitors or management of plant metabolism.
    • Improved technologies may control mineralization and eliminate the need for cover crops. For example, the University of California Cooperative Extension, Monterey County, is trialing carbon sources such as almond hulls and glycerol to tie up over-wintering nitrogen and is release it in the spring when crop plant are present.
    • Increasingly, states are imposing nitrogen use and/or nitrogen management regulations.
  • What challenges exist for municipalities and/drinking water systems?
    • The nitrate in drinking water is persistent and nitrate levels may be increasing.
    • Globalization has moved business out of town and reduces tax revenues.
    • The size of the problem may be too large to be addressed locally.
    • Previous federal programs are shrinking to provide funding for drinking water.
    • Funds for building a drinking water system or treatment plant might be procured but the local government may not be able to afford ongoing operation and maintenance (O&M) costs.
    • Local technical resources may not be available.
    • Technical expertise might be more than the local government can afford.
  • What are some of the solutions that exist for municipalities or drinking water systems?
    • The short-term solution is to provide drinking water to vulnerable members of the population.
    • Traditionally, treatment created a waste stream. However, this may be ameliorated with improving biological treatment technology; thus, reducing this barrier for treatment.
    • Drill additional drinking water wells in aquifers with clean water.
    • Abandon wells with unacceptable nitrate levels.
    • Blend water from impaired wells with clean water to meet the EPA drinking water numeric standard of 10 ppm Nitrate as Nitrogen (NO3-N).
    • Use creative well-testing to meet EPA standards (Note: this is not recommended.)
    • Levy Municipal, Regional, or State taxes on ratepayers, businesses, and/or growers to pay for impaired drinking water systems.

Royte, Elizabeth, Drinking Problems, A Kansas Town Confronts a Tap-Water Crisis. Harper’s Magazine, (Archive May 2018): https://harpers.org/archive/2018/05/drinking-problems/

Water-Musings: Impacts of Water Cuts to California

Interestingly, decades of environmental policy and regulatory development have occurred in California with little institutional assessment of impacts to communities, job losses, or localized economies. This is especially true where water policy and regulation has been adopted. However, it is naive to think that water supply can be continuously curtailed, and production and regulatory costs constantly increased, without incurring consequences.

This article discusses a 2017 report released by the Southern California Water Committee and the Committee for Delta Reliability. “U.S. Berkeley Professor and Department of Agricultural & Resources Chair, David L. Sunding, studied the impacts of state water cuts since 2000 and projects impacts over the next 30 years.

  • California is losing 1.3 million acre-feet of water each year.
  • Agriculture will lose as much as 21,000 jobs/year over the next 30 years.
  • Farmworkers have already lost $900 million in wages since 2000.
  • Farmworkers could lose as a potential of $4 billion in wages over the next 30 years.
  • 55,000 acres of farmland have been fallowed each year since 2000.
  • Possibly, 195,000 acres of farmland/year willl be fallowed over the next 30 years.
  • Urban communities have lost $5 billion since 2000 from water restrictions.
  • Urban communities may lost $10 billion in the future as they make up for water supply curtailments.

Article: New Report Shows Thousands of California Jobs Lost Due to Water Cuts. 23ABC News. (April 2017): https://www.turnto23.com/news/local-news/new-report-shows-thousands-of-california-jobs-lost-due-to-water-cuts

Report: Sunding, David. The Human Impact of California’s Water Cuts. SCWC. (April, 2017): https://www.socalwater.org/news/1692/just-released-the-human-impact-of-californias-water-cuts


Water-Musings: Delta Flows

In 2019, The Bay-Delta Plan is being updated through two separate processes (Plan amendments). The first Plan amendment is focused on San Joaquin River flows and southern Delta salinity. The second Plan amendment is focused on the Sacramento River and its tributaries, Delta eastside tributaries (including the Calaveras, Cosumnes, and Mokelumne rivers), Delta outflows, and interior Delta flows.

12/18/19: Updates to Proposed Amendments are posted at: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/

Additionally, SWRCB posted a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the Bay Delta Plan UPdatew and Its Anticipated Impacts to Agriculture, Water Supply and Wildlife https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/bay_delta/docs/bay_delta_faq.pdf

The FAQ answers the question: How much fresh water flow increase is recommended and how much will water supply be decreased?

“The Lower San Joaquin River flow proposal as adopted would provide a range of 30 to 50 percent of unimpaired flow from February through June in the Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus rivers. The starting point is proposed to be 40 percent of unimpaired flow. This is not the same as a 40 percent reduction. The 40 percent unimpaired flow proposal would result, on average, in a 14 percent reduction in surface water supply for human uses like agriculture and drinking water, and an average 26 percent increase in instream flows on the Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus rivers.”


10/21/16: A report is recommending drastic increases in: inflow requirements, non-flow mitigations, and Delta outflow requirements. There are recommended timings of cold water releases from reservoirs and increased storage of adequate water in reservoirs to be able to provide critical at other times. The report also documents the decline of key Delta fish species, reductions of winter and spring flows over time, the need for more fresh water in the Delta, and the need for increased Delta outflow.

California’s Water Quality Control Board is seeking comment on the Scientific Basis Report, from which it will determine the necessary flows to “protect fish and wildlife beneficial uses.”

Written comments are due by Dec. 16 and a workshop at which oral comments can be made is scheduled Dec. 7. http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2016/pr101916_bay_delta.pdf

Water-Musings: Paso Robles Groundwater (4/4/17)

A Packed House and Civic Acrimony

Time to for the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisorstalk about the Sustainable Groundwater Management of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

First, though, the meeting had to wade through allegations of Brown Act violations. The public comment on the allegations was entertaining. One comment compared the allegations to bovine excrement. There was a special poem about the Pot Calling the Kettle Black. And, at last, the meeting descended into personal attacks and defamation of our public officials. It is unclear what was truly accomplished.

Reposted from Facebook, April 4, 2017

Event: Salinas Valley Nutrient and Water Management Seminar (2/23/17)

It was a packed house for the 2017 Salinas Valley Nutrient and Water Management Seminar.

This is an annual seminar.

University of California Cooperative Extension Researchers and Growers discussed organic Nitrogen fertilizers, the use of new on-line modeling tools, and Nitrogen management priorities for short-season, leafy green crops.

Agriculture is a very conservative, traditional industry. For cool season vegetable growers, there is a high level of risk aversion because a red-tagged or failed crop can be a very expensive loss. Consequently, change is slow, but growers DO respond positively to solid research presented by researchers who are sensitive to production and financial realities. Historically, the Salinas Valley has been blessed with very competent and creative researchers who bring valuable information to the growers each year.

The agenda may be found at: http://www.ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=23059

Water-Musings: Nitrate Treatment of Groundwater (2/17/17)

John Skardon, with Tailwater Systems, has applied municipal water treatment technologies to remove nitrates from agricultural wastewater abd recycling systems. We attended a field tour to look at an early prototype.

John Skardon conducted a field tour of one of his early prototypes. Since 2017, John has made great progress in system design, portability and affordability.

Learn more at https://www.tailwatersystems.com

What’s a field tour without a lot of shifting feet, handouts and an enthusiastic speaker?
The most important part of the system is the microbial treatment filter that biologically treats nitrates without creating a brine stream. The microbes are propagated from existing populations found in nearby waterbodies.
This is a rough and early prototype. The most important part of the system is the microbial treatment filter that biologically treats nitrates without creating a brine stream. The microbes are propagated from existing populations found in nearby waterbodies.


Water-Musings: Learning about SGMA (11/22/16)

Democracy in action: the community turned out to learn about and comment on representation on the newly forming Sustainable Groundwater Agency (SGMA).

There is no doubt that SGMA will be a game changer. It is known that new fees will be assessed. However, the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) has yet to be written and no one knows where the pressure points will be. For example, how much “environmental water flows” will be required to support Steelhead habitat? When will environmental flows be required? How much groundwater extraction curtailment will occur, if any? What actions will be recommended in order to eliminate further groundwater pumping overdraft in the lower part of the Salinas Valley? These issues, plus some that are still in the courts, remain to be resolved. 

Reposted from Facebook, November 22, 2016