Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Mr. Joe Grindstaff

Director, California Bay-Delta Authority

Testimony of

P. Joseph Grindstaff, Director

CALFED Bay-Delta Program

 

Before the

Subcommittee on Water and Power

of the

United States Senate

Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Regarding

Groundwater Management,

Wastewater Reclamation and Brine Disposal

 

July 27, 2006


Testimony of
P. Joseph Grindstaff, Director

CALFED Bay-Delta Program

before the

Subcommittee on Water and Power

of the

United States Senate
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

regarding

Conjunctive Water Management,

Wastewater Reclamation and Brine Disposal

 

 

Chairman Murkowski and members of the Subcommittee on Water and Power, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss ways the federal government could or should partner with state and local governments to increase the supply and improve the quality of water resources.  I have been intimately familiar with these issues  both as a manager for local and regional water agencies in Southern California, then as Chief Deputy Director for the California Department of Water Resources, and now as the Director of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program.

 

Today I will provide an overview of the California Water Plan as it relates to recycled wastewater and conjunctive groundwater management. I will also provide you with some examples of how this works across California and discuss some of the major challenges facing us. Finally, I will conclude with recommendations from the State of California’s perspective about how these vital forms of water management can be improved.

 

In particular, the kinds of projects envisioned by S. 3638 and H.R. 177 – treating impaired surface and groundwater, wastewater reclamation and brine disposal – fit well with goals of the California Water Plan and the policy of multi-level governmental partnerships.

 

The recently updated California Water Plan recognizes the need for a comprehensive approach and the need to work cooperatively – with local and regional agencies and with the state and federal governments – in order to succeed in managing the state’s water resources. The Plan looks at water as a resource whose management involves many responsibilities and raises many issues.

 

I am a firm believer that the water supply reliability and water quality issues facing California and many other parts of the nation and the world cannot be solved by any one management strategy implemented by any one level of government or private sector enterprise. Only by using all of the management options available, and through collaboration and cooperation at all levels of government and the private sector, will we be able to meet the demands of a growing population, maintain economic growth and prosperity, and do all this in a way that preserves and protects the natural environment.

 

 

Wastewater Recycling

Californians have used recycled water since the late 1800s and public health protections have been in effect since the early part of the 1900s. Recycled water use has dramatically increased in the past several decades as water agencies needed to supplement their water supplies. Today, California’s water agencies recycle about 500,000 acre-feet of wastewater annually. In fact, this increase in water recycling and the addition of 1 million acre-feet of new groundwater storage are success stories for the CALFED Bay-Delta Program’s efforts to increase water supply reliability.

 

In 2001, the state Legislature established a 40-member Recycled Water Task Force to identify opportunities for, and constraints and impediments to, increasing the use of recycled water in California. Over the course of nearly 14 months, the Task Force conducted intensive study in collaboration with many other experts and the public to develop recommendations for actions at many levels.

 

Many of the Task Force recommendations are in the process of being implemented and will significantly improve both the way projects are planned and the regulatory frameworks within which they must operate. A key issue remains: increasing state and federal financial support for research and project construction.

 

 

Recycled Water Use Affordability

The cost of recycled water, relative to other water sources, will influence how much recycled water is produced for each region. Costs are dependent on the availability of treatable water, demand for treated water, the quality of the source as well as the product water, the type of the intended beneficial use, and the proximity of recycled water facilities to the end users. In addition, the need for disposal brine lines is considered a major issue for some inland agencies.

 

The lack of adequate local funding to plan feasible recycled water projects can slow the construction of new projects. Public funding as well as incentive measures can help advance water recycling for irrigation, making more potable water supply available. In California, we estimate there is a potential of about 0.9 million to 1.4 million acre-feet annually of additional water supply from recycled water by the year 2030.

 

When looking at California’s overall water supply, recycling provides new water for the state only in areas where wastewater is discharged to the ocean or to salt sink. Recycling in other areas may provide new water for the water agency, but does not necessarily add to the state’s water supplies. In these locations, discharged wastewater in interior California mixes with other water and becomes source water for downstream water users.

 

For many communities, an investment in recycled water could also provide other benefits, including:

  1. More reliable and drought-proof local sources of water, including nutrients, and organic matter for agricultural soil conditioning and a reduction in fertilizer use
  2. Reduction of pollutants discharged into water bodies beyond levels prescribed by regulations with the ability to increase natural treatment by land application
  3. Improved groundwater and surface water quality that contribute to wetland and marsh enhancement
  4. Energy savings because  the use of recycled water as a local source offsets the need for even-more energy-intensive imported water

 

Potential Costs of Recycled Water

The estimated capital cost for the range of potential recycling in California by 2030 is approximately $6 billion to $9 billion. The actual cost will depend on the quality of the wastewater, the treatment level to meet recycled water intended use, and the availability of a distribution network. Uses, such as irrigation near the treatment plant, will benefit from lower treatment and distribution costs.

 

Irrigation of a wide array of agriculture and landscape crops can even benefit from the nutrients present in the recycled water by lowering the need for applied fertilizer. However, the use of recycled water for irrigation without adequate soil and water management may cause accumulation of salts or specific ions in soil and groundwater. Some uses, such as an industrial recycled water user farther away from the treatment plant, may need to pay higher costs for treatment and distribution. Given the wide range of local conditions that can affect costs, the majority of applications would cost between $300 and $1,300 per acre-foot of recycled water. Costs outside this range are plausible depending on local conditions. Uses that require higher water quality and have higher public health concerns will have higher costs.

 

Affordability

The cost of recycled water, relative to other water sources, will influence how much recycled water is produced for each region. The costs are dependent on the availability of treatable water, demand for treated water, the quality of the source as well as the product water, the type of the intended beneficial use, and the proximity of recycled water facilities to the end users. In addition, the need for disposal brine lines is considered a major issue for some inland agencies. The lack of adequate local funding to plan feasible recycled water projects can slow the construction of new projects. Public funding as well as incentive measures can help advance water recycling projects that provide local, regional and statewide benefits.

 

Water Quality

The quality of the recycled water will affect its usage. Public acceptance of recycled water use depends on confidence in the safety of its use. Four water quality factors are of particular concern: 1) microbiological quality; 2) salinity; 3) presence of heavy metals, and 4) the concentration of stable organic and inorganic substances or emerging contaminants originating from various pharmaceuticals and personal care products, household chemicals and detergents, agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, animal growth hormones, and many other sources.

 

Public Acceptance

Public perception and acceptance of some recycled water uses currently limits its application. In some areas, public concerns about potential health issues have limited the use of recycled water for indirect potable purposes, such as groundwater recharge and replenishment of surface storage, and even for irrigation of parks and school yards.

 

Potential Impacts

Areas in interior California that discharge their wastewater to streams, rivers, or the groundwater contribute to downstream flows. Recycling water would remove this source of water and potentially affect downstream water users, including the environment. In some instances, recycling is discouraged when dischargers are required to maintain a certain flow in the stream for downstream users.

 

 

Conjunctive Water Management

 

During the last three years, the Conjunctive Water Management Branch  of the California Department of Water Resources has implemented several integrated programs to improve the management of groundwater resources in California. These improvements cover many facets of groundwater management. They include developing a basic understanding of individual groundwater basins, identifying basin management strategies or objectives, planning and conducting groundwater studies, and designing and constructing conjunctive use projects. The goal is to increase water supply reliability statewide through the planned, coordinated management and use of groundwater and surface water resources.

 

When the Conjunctive Water Management Program was formed five years ago, local agencies had little trust in the overall objectives of the program and minimal interest in participating. Since that time, the Program has been able to establish strong relationships with many local agencies and has made commitments to assist efforts to plan and implement conjunctive water use projects pursuant to the program goal while, at the same time, providing both local management opportunities and water supply system reliability measures.

 

There is no comprehensive statewide data on the planning and implementation of conjunctive water management at the local agency level, but Department of Water Resources’ Conjunctive Water Management Program data provides an indication of the types and magnitude of projects that water agencies are pursuing. In fiscal years 2001 and 2002, the Program awarded more than $130 million in grants and loans to leverage local and regional investment in projects throughout California with total costs of about $550 million.

 

Examples of Conjunctive Management

Some examples illustrate the types of conjunctive management under way on a regional and local scale. In Southern California, including Kern County, conjunctive management has increased average-year water deliveries by more than 2 million acre-feet. Over a period of years, artificial recharge in these areas has increased the water now in groundwater storage by about 7 million acre-feet.

 

In Northern California, Santa Clara Valley Water District releases local supplies and imported water into more than 20 local creeks for artificial in-stream recharge and into more than 70 recharge ponds with an average annual recharge capacity of 138,000 acre-feet. Conjunctive management has virtually stopped land subsidence caused by heavy groundwater use and has allowed groundwater levels to recover to those of the early 1900s.

 

In Southern California, the Groundwater Replenishment System is a groundwater management and water supply project jointly sponsored by the Orange County Water District and Orange County Sanitation District. The project will take highly treated urban wastewater and treat it to better-than drinking water standards using advanced membrane purification technology. The water will be used to expand an existing underground seawater intrusion barrier as well as augment water supplies for municipal and industrial uses. Phase 1 of the project is expected to produce up to 72,000 acre-feet per year of recycled water for groundwater recharge beginning in 2007.

 

 

Major Issues

Lack of Data – There is rarely a complete regional network to monitor groundwater levels, water quality, land subsidence, or the interaction of groundwater with surface water and the environment. Data is needed to evaluate conditions and trends on three planes: laterally over an area, vertically at different depths, and over time. Also, there is often a reluctance of individuals who own groundwater monitoring or supply wells to provide information or allow access to collect additional information. The result is that decisions are often made with only approximate knowledge of the system.

This uncertainty can make any change in groundwater use controversial. Additional investment in a monitoring network and data collection can help reduce this uncertainty, but must be done in accordance with a groundwater management plan that is acceptable to stakeholders in the basin.

 

Infrastructure and Operational Constraints -- Physical capacities of existing storage and conveyance facilities are often not large enough to capture surface water when it is available in wet years. Operational constraints may also limit the ability to use the full physical capacity of facilities. For example, permitted export capacity and efforts to protect fisheries and water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta often limit the ability to move water to groundwater banks south of the Delta. Facilities that are operated for both temporary storage of flood water and groundwater recharge require more frequent maintenance to clean out excessive sediment that often is present in flood water.

 

Surface Water and Groundwater Management – In California, water management practices and the water rights system treat surface water and groundwater as two unconnected resources. In reality, there is often a high degree of hydrologic connection between the two and a separation of management authority.

Authority is separated among local, state and federal agencies for managing different aspects of California’s groundwater and surface water resources. Several examples highlight this issue:

 

  • First, the State Water Resources Control Board regulates surface water rights dating from 1914, but not rights dating before 1914;
  • If that’s not confusing enough, SWRCB also regulates groundwater quality, but not the rights to use groundwater;
  • On a local level, county groundwater ordinances and local agency groundwater management plans often only apply to a portion of the groundwater basin, and those with overlapping boundaries of responsibility do not necessarily have consistent management objectives; and finally,
  • Except in adjudicated basins, individuals have few restrictions on how much groundwater they can use, provided the water is put to beneficial use on the overlying property.

 

Failure to integrate water management across jurisdictions makes it difficult to manage water for multiple benefits and provide for sustainable use, including the ability to identify and protect or mitigate potential impacts to third parties, ensure protection of legal rights of water users, establish rights to use vacant aquifer space and banked water, protect the environment, recognize and protect groundwater recharge and discharge areas, and protect public trust resources.

 

Water Quality – Groundwater quality can be degraded by naturally occurring or human-introduced chemical constituents, low quality recharge water, or chemical reactions caused by mixing water of differing qualities. Protection of human health, the environment, and groundwater quality are all concerns for programs that recharge urban runoff or reclaimed/recycled water. The intended end use of the water can also influence the implementation of conjunctive management projects. For example, agriculture can generally use water of lower quality than needed for urban use, but certain crops can be sensitive to some constituents like boron.

 

New and changing water quality standards and emerging contaminants add uncertainty to implementing conjunctive management projects. A water source may, at the time it is used for recharge, meet all drinking water quality standards. Over time, however, detection capabilities improve and new or changed water quality standards become applicable. As a result, contaminants that were not previously identified or detected may become future water quality problems creating potential liability uncertainties. In some cases, conjunctive water management activities may need to be coordinated with groundwater clean up activities to achieve multiple benefits to both water supply and groundwater quality.

 

Environmental Concerns Environmental concerns related to conjunctive management projects include potential impacts on habitat, water quality, and wildlife caused by shifting or increasing patterns of groundwater and surface water use. For example, floodwaters are typically considered “available” for recharge. However, flood flows serve an important function in the ecosystem. Removing or reducing these peak flows can negatively impact the ecosystem. A key challenge is to balance the in-stream flow and other environmental needs with the water supply aspects of conjunctive management projects. There may also be impacts from construction and operation of groundwater recharge basins and new conveyance facilities.

 

Funding – There is generally limited funding to develop the infrastructure and monitoring capability for conjunctive management projects. This includes funding to develop and implement groundwater management plans, study and construct conjunctive management projects, and to track  statewide and regionally changes in groundwater levels, groundwater flows and groundwater quality.

 

Grant applications from DWR’s fiscal year 2001-2002 Conjunctive Water Management Program show project costs of increasing average annual delivery ranging from $10 to $600 per acre-foot. This wide range of costs is due to many factors, including project complexity, regional differences in construction and land costs, availability and quality of recharge supply, availability of infrastructure to capture, convey, recharge, and extract water, intended use of water, and treatment requirements. In general, urban uses can support higher project costs than agricultural uses. The average project cost of all applications received by DWR is $110 per acre-foot of increase in average annual delivery. This average unit cost translates to approximately $1.5 billion in statewide implementation costs of for the conservative level of implementation, and $5 billion for the aggressive implementation.


Recommendations

 

California Water Plan Update 2005 is the product of a collaborative process that brought together the Department of Water Resources; a 65-member advisory committee representing urban, agricultural, and environmental interests; a 350-member extended review forum; and 2,000 interested members of the public. The result is a plan that includes the very best ideas for meeting our water challenges, and the following recommendations about conjunctive water management and wastewater recycling:

 

Wastewater Recycling

1.                  Federal, state and local funding should be increased beyond Proposition 50 and other existing sources toward sustainable technical assistance and outreach, advanced research on recycled water issues, and adequate water reuse/recycling infrastructure and facilities.

 

2.                  The state, with assistance from the federal government, should encourage an academic program on one or more campuses for water reuse research and education; develop education curricula for public schools; and encourage institutions of higher education to incorporate recycled water education into their curricula.

 

3.                  Federal, state and local agencies should engage the public in an active dialogue and participation using a community value-based decision-making model (determining what a community values, then making decisions based on that information) in planning water recycling projects.

 

Conjunctive Management:

4.                  Local water management agencies should coordinate with other agencies that are involved in activities that might affect long term sustainability of water supply and water quality within or adjacent to a basin situation. Regional groundwater management plans should be developed with assistance from an advisory committee of stakeholders to help guide the development, educational outreach, and implementation of the plans.

 

5.                  Continue funding for local groundwater monitoring and management activities and feasibility studies that enhance the coordinated use of groundwater and surface water. Additional monitoring and analysis is needed to track, both statewide and regionally, changes in groundwater levels, groundwater flows, groundwater quality (including the location and spreading of contaminant plumes) land subsidence, changes in surface water flow, surface water quality, and the interaction and interrelated nature of surface water and groundwater. There is a need to develop comprehensive data and data management systems to track existing, proposed, and potential conjunctive management projects throughout the state and identify and evaluate regional and statewide implementation constraints, including availability of water to recharge, ability to convey water from source to destination, water quality issues, environmental issues, and costs and benefits.

 

6.                  Give priority for funding and technical assistance to conjunctive management projects that are conducted in accordance with a groundwater management plan, increase water supplies, and have other benefits including the sustainable use of groundwater, maintaining or improving water quality, and enhancing the environment be given priority. Additional preference should be given for projects conducted in accordance with a regional groundwater management plan. In addition, allow funding for projects that make use of wet season/dry season supply variability, not just wet-year/dry-year variability.

 

7.                  Assess groundwater management to provide an understanding of how local agencies are implementing actions to use and protect groundwater, an understanding of which actions are working at the local level and which are not working, and how state and federal programs can be improved to help agencies prepare effective groundwater management plans.

 

8.                  Improve coordination and cooperation among local, state, and federal agencies with differing responsibilities for groundwater and surface water management and monitoring to facilitate conjunctive management, to ensure efficient use of resources, to provide timely regulatory approvals, to prevent conflicting rules or guidelines, and to promote easy access to information by the public.

 

9.                  Encourage local groundwater management authorities to manage the use of vacant aquifer space for artificial recharge and to develop multi-benefit projects that generate source water for groundwater storage by capturing water that would otherwise not be used by other water users or the environment. For example, through reservoir re-operation, water recycling and reuse, and water conservation.

 

10.              Include wildlife agencies in the loop to streamline the environmental permitting process for the development of conjunctive management facilities, like recharge basins, when they are designed with pre-defined benefits or mitigation to wildlife and wildlife habitat.