Community Water Center

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Groundwater Quality in SGMA Roundtable Materials

Groundwater Quality in SGMA Roundtable

On Wednesday October 10th, Community Water Center, Union of Concerned Scientists, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and Self Help Enterprises hosted a roundtable focused on Groundwater Quality in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). At this event, we focused on three different topic areas and following the different speaker presentations, attendees reflected on what was presented during small roundtable discussions. Below are summaries of the speaker presentations for the three topic areas. To access the event agenda, speaker backgrounds, powerpoint presentations, and roundtable discussion questions, visit the links at the bottom of this page.

Topic #1: Regulatory Requirements for Addressing Groundwater Quality

Speaker: Amanda Peisch-Derby, Regional Coordinator, California Department of Water Resources
SGMA has provided complete authority for Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to define what is significant and unreasonable for each of the sustainability indicators, including groundwater quality. GSAs are responsible to define which contaminants their Groundwater Sustainability Plans will focus on, including defining and quantifying what level will be considered significant and unreasonable and what area will be monitored. Though GSAs don’t have to follow specific water quality regulations, they will need to coordinate their plan and thresholds with existing state and federal water quality regulations.

Recommendation: GSAs are tasked to engage stakeholders (water users and beneficiaries) in the development of GSPs. So if you have water problems and concerns, you need to communicate to your GSAs so that the problem is addressed in your GSPs.

Speaker: Patrick Pulupa, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board

Patrick gave an overview of the Central Valley-SALTS Salt and Nitrate Management Plans as well as an overview of the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP). The CV-SALTS initiative developed a Central Valley-wide Salt and Nitrate Management Plan (SNMP) to address nitrates and salts in the Central Valley. The SNMP provides a framework to meet three prioritized management goals: (1) ensure safe drinking water; (2) work to achieve balanced salt and nitrate loadings; and (3) plan and implement a long-term groundwater restoration program.

Recommendation: Proposed activities for the SNMP include: characterization of nitrate contamination, aquifer restoration plan, waste discharge requirements, and solutions for communities already impacted with nitrates in their drinking water supply. GSAs could leverage and coordinate with these activities to also achieve their goals under SGMA.

As part of the new Irrigated Lands Regulatory Order (ILRP), irrigation wells and domestic wells located on parcels that are irrigated are now required to be sampled. The new regulation also requires reporting of the total nitrogen applied for farms that grow crops with a high potential of nitrogen loading in groundwater. Recommendations: ILRP will generate important data regarding nitrogen loading in groundwater therefore GSAs should integrate this data into their GSPs and use the information to support their decisions. In terms of addressing natural contaminants in plans (like arsenic) it is up to locals to define what is unreasonable and GSAs should be implementing adequate monitoring frameworks to fill the data gaps to better understand the extent of the issue and to better address it.

Topic #2: Changes in Groundwater Levels and the Impacts on Groundwater Quality

Speaker: Scott Fendorf, Stanford University
Scott gave an overview about the challenges regarding groundwater extraction, land subsidence, and the release of natural contaminants. When groundwater over pumping occurs and leads to land subsidence, the geochemistry of the groundwater aquifer is drastically changed. When there is less water in the aquifer, naturally occurring contaminants (like arsenic, uranium, chromium, magnesium, and iron) that are trapped in the solid soil particles get leached out and are released into the groundwater.

Recommendation: As GSAs are developing their plans, they should keep in mind which contaminants exist in their area and utilize their monitoring networks to try to predict which contaminants could become a threat and address them ahead of time. It is also recommended that groundwater levels be sustained to prevent the release of naturally occurring contaminants.

Speaker: Miranda Fram, US Geological Survey
Miranda gave an overview on uranium and how human actions are drastically changing groundwater conditions.
Though drinking water sources with uranium levels above the MCL do not cause immediate health risks, over the long term uranium can cause severe health impacts. In the Central Valley uranium is one of the top 5 contaminants, the others being arsenic, nitrates, salinity, and fulminantes. Historically groundwater has moved slowly and uranium had stayed relatively stable without being released into the groundwater. Now, groundwater is extracted at a quicker pace and the application of this extracted groundwater on crops then moves through the different layers of the soil back into the groundwater aquifer. This quickening of the groundwater cycle pace causes chemical changes in the aquifer which leads uranium to be released into the groundwater.

Recommendation: GSAs should plan accordingly for the release of future contaminants and be prepared to address them. Groundwater recharge should also take place during the off season (winter) in order for cleaner water to be added into the groundwater aquifer and to avoid contaminants that are located in the vadose zone (top of the soil) from moving down into the groundwater aquifer.

Topic #3: Potential Strategies to Address Groundwater Quality

Speaker: Ken Manning, San Gabriel Water Quality Authority
Ken shared lessons learned from the development of San Gabriel Basin water quality management plan. The San Gabriel Basin is an area that was once a strong farming region. In 1980, serious groundwater contamination was detected, which led the basin to become a Superfund site. Federal efforts were not sufficient in addressing the water quality problems so the San Gabriel Water Quality Authority was created to lead the effort in coordinating the necessary groups to address the problems. Once formed, they were able to secure funding and momentum to address the water quality issues of their basin.

Recommendations: Based on their experience, GSAs should take the lead role in ensuring the groundwater quality problems in their area are openly discussed and addressed. GSAs should be proactive in coordinating and integrating the many different regulatory agencies, stakeholders, local and state departments in order to find holistic solutions. When appropriate, GSAs should consider acting as the fiscal agent to coordinate the securing of funds which leads to water quality concerns being addressed more rapidly as well as gives local groups more control over their local concerns.

Speaker: Aaron Fakuda, Tulare Irrigation District
Aaron gave an overview of a groundwater recharge project that is being developed in Okieville. When doing water quality tests in the community of Okieville Self Help Enterprises discovered high arsenic levels in the north part of the community. The southern part of the community had good water quality conditions and the reason this was the case is because there was an existing groundwater recharge project being implemented by Tulare Irrigation District nearby that was indirectly improving the community’s drinking water conditions. After discovering this, Tulare Irrigation District, the Okieville community, and Self Help Enterprises began a collaboration to develop a groundwater recharge project in the north of the community that would aim to provide an improved sustainable water supply for the community. The project will be a 20-acre recharge basin that will include a monitoring network that will look at both water supply and quality impacts.

Recommendation: Multibenefit projects to reach sustainability are possible and feasible. When developing potential projects, GSAs should consider whether these projects could be strategically placed somewhere where they can improve groundwater quality for nearby communities.

Below you can find the speaker backgrounds, powerpoint presentations, and roundtable discussion questions from the event: 


More photos of the Groundwater Workshop event can be found here

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