River Watch Header Image

Problems with Legislation for Reclaimed Wastewater

Clean Water Friends:
Proposed legislation has evolved from the State’s Recycled Water Policy.  It  basically takes away the authority of the Departments of Public Health and the State and Regional Water Quality Control Boards to regulate the irrigation and recharge use of reclaimed wastewater.  It aims to allow discharge into the drinking water supply, including ground water.  It fails to differentiate between advanced membrane treatment and tertiary wastewater treatments.  It would eliminate rules about runoff.  It hinges on a judgement by a six member Scientific Panel to determine that the wastewater is safe.  Already, the Panel’s preliminary findings have declared that since any chemicals of emerging concern have only been found in very small amounts, it is likely that there is no cause for concern.  This view is being promoted by the Water ReUse for California group being run by Dr. Dave Smith, long time consultant for the City of Santa Rosa.  The rationale espoused to citizens of Southern California, many of whom benefit from much more highly treated wastewater systems than we do in our area, is that their water has already been “used” and processed by many upstream users already.  They have had a very active program to persuade the public of its value and safety, which has apparently been aided greatly by the SurfRiders Foundation.
All of this I have learned in the last ten days.  This legislation is currently being reviewed, and apparently not only supported, but also actively promoted, by the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife led by Chair Jared Huffman.  Apparently the legislation is being amended at this point and there is a hearing scheduled in mid April on the amended version.  Let me know if you want to be notified of the Amended version and the hearing time and date.  Hopefully some of you can attend.   The State’s main goal is to reuse 1.5 million acre feet of water a year (by 2020 and 2.5 MAF by 2030) to offset some current water use and probably to allow for new growth.
I went to a hearing on this in Sacramento last week.  It was a dog and pony show with nine speakers, all appeared to be fully in support of the legislation.  Grant Davis spoke in support of the program on behalf of the North Bay Irrigation Group (formal name?) including Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and other counties.  Dave Smith also spoke on behalf of the Water ReUse of California organization.   I was the only environmentalist there and the only one speaking against this legislation during public comments. Vicky Whitney was an invited speaker as well and seemed to support the legislation.  She is now head of the water quality department of the State Resources Control Board.  (I believe she expressed some concerns, but I have to review her comments.)  Apparently we have learned that legislative committees regularly conduct these dog and pony shows in favor of legislation they want to pass, where only proponents are invited to speak.
Only two days before the recent hearing, a new major study was released by a group of scientists who have been working on endocrine disruption for over 20 years.  From what I can tell, their work is the cream of the crop on this topic and I believe they are being ignored by the State’s Scientific Panel on Contaminants of Emerging Concern.  The main thrust of the new report is challenging conventional risk assessment analysis and the assumption that ‘the dose makes the poison’.   Scientists have found that very minute exposures to many endocrine disruption substances (as many as 870 have been identified through scientific studies thus far) in the parts per trillion level, cause major impacts on the reproductive systems of animals and humans.  Furthermore, these chemicals have been linked with cancer, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, diabetes, birth defects (especially of sexual organs), etc. and in some cases the impacts can be multi-generational.  Very minute amounts of atrazine (most popular pesticide) have been linked to extreme reproductive anomalies of frogs.
During public comment I was given one minute to speak by Chairman Huffman (reward for driving for five hours to get there and back).  I actually took about three minutes.  I mentioned the issue with low dose impacts of endocrine disrupting chemicals and I mentioned the need for separating tertiary and advanced membrane treatment technologies when declaring the safety of this technology.  To say these people were quite unfriendly would be an understatement (including Mr. Huffman).  Yet out in the hall, a man stopped me and said my comments were very appropriate.  He was from the Dept. of Water Resources.
I have attached the six page letter I submitted to the Committee.  I had also submitted the latest copy of the Gazette which has an article by me on Santa Rosa’s irrigation run off (it’s on our website at www.rrwpc.org and also www.sonomacountygazette.com)  I plan to stay on top of this and could really use help.  I don’t plan to do much until the amended language comes out; they implied they would address the tertiary issue, but how I don’t know.  Cat Kuhlman (executive officer of the Regional Board)  will be at the Environmental Center in Santa Rosa this Wednesday (7 pm) and I’m hoping she can say something about this (She can’t talk about pending legislation directly.)  I have also attached the proposed legislation as it stands now and the brief description of the legislation (emphasis mine)
I can send you the new study on endocrine disruption if you want; just let me know.  I encourage you to look at Theo Colborn’s website at TEDX (TEDX – The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
PO Box 1407 Paonia, CO  81428
970-527-4082
Especially look at the list of 870 endocrine disrupting chemicals and the video on “The Male Predicament”.