State Water Board Approves Central Valley Plan to Reduce Nitrate Contamination

  • by Caroline Minasian
  • Oct 22, 2019
  • Water News

On Oct. 16, the State Water Resources Control Board approved a long-term plan that addresses the buildup of salt and nitrates in the Central Valley’s groundwater and surface water supplies that are present from historic and current agricultural, municipal and industrial activities.

Development of the Central Valley-wide Salt and Nitrate Management Plan began in 2006 with the stakeholder initiative Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS). The approved plan is a result of a 13-year collaborative effort between the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and multiple stakeholders including representatives from agriculture, environmental justice advocates, water agencies, cities and communities impacted by the Central Valley’s water quality problems.

The plan has prioritized the below three goals to address salt and nitrate concerns:

  1. Ensure a Safe Drinking Water Supply: This goal aligns with Assembly Bill 685, which declares that every human “has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and salinity purposes.” Numerous communities within the Central Valley exceed the maximum contaminant level of nitrates so this goal is top priority to ensure a safe and reliable water supply for all residents in the region.
  2. Achieve Balanced Salt and Nitrate Loadings: This goal aims to establish a balance of the mass of salt and nitrates in groundwater that underlies each permitted or managed area.
  3. Implement Managed Aquifer Restoration Program: The objective of this goal is to restore salt and nitrate levels within groundwater basins, subbasins and locally managed areas when reasonable and feasible. Restoration focuses on restoring the beneficial use but also on minimizing and preventing further degradation of supplies that are currently meeting the water quality objectives.

The State Water Board directed the Central Valley Board to return with targeted revisions to strengthen the plan within one year. The revisions include the following:

  • Strengthening requirements to reduce nitrate contamination of groundwater basins.
  • Accelerating the timeline for achieving this goal. Dischargers will be required to reach this goal within as short a time as practicable, but not to exceed 35 years.
  • Requiring enforceable interim deadlines and a final compliance date for dischargers to meet their goal of reducing nitrate discharges.
  • Requiring residential sampling programs that provide water quality testing for residents whose water supplies may be contaminated.

In May of 2018, the Central Valley Board adopted Basin Plan Amendments that implement salt and nitrate management programs across Tulare Lake, Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins. The basin plans contain regulations approved by each of the nine regional water boards to control discharge of waste and other factors affecting water quality.

To learn more, visit the CV-SALTS resource page.


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