Beegany C.,State Water Resources Control Board |
Bay S.M.,Southern California Coastal Water Research Project
Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management | Year: 2012
Development and promulgation of sediment quality criteria represents a substantial challenge for water quality agencies. Unlike water quality programs that rely on individual chemical thresholds to assess water quality, the complex processes affecting contaminant bioavailability in sediments preclude the use of contaminant concentrations to independently assess impacts or identify cause. Various multiple line of evidence approaches (e.g., sediment quality triad) have been developed for sediment quality assessment, but such frameworks are rarely fully incorporated into statewide regulatory programs due to a lack of standardized and validated tools. In 2003, California's StateWater Resources Control Board (StateWater Board) initiated development of sediment quality criteria and an assessment framework that required the developers to resolve many challenging technical and policy related issues to the satisfaction of stakeholders, scientists, and the general public. The first part of this multiyear effort has been completed and resulted in the development and validation of an integrated collection of tools, thresholds, and a data interpretation framework for assessing sediment contamination impacts on benthic community condition. The State Water Board's narrative sediment quality criteria and assessment framework became effective in 2009, following US Environmental Protection Agency approval. The results of this effort are described in a series of 6 articles published in this issue of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management. The articles describe: 1) a multiple line of evidence framework for data integration and assessment, 2) calibration and evaluation of sediment quality guidelines for predicting toxic responses, 3) development and evaluation of sediment quality guidelines with respect to benthic macrofauna responses, 4) selection of toxicity test methods and thresholds, 5) identification and characterization of benthic community assemblages, 6) the effect of sampling methods on benthic community assessment, and 7) recommendations on improving the assessment of contaminant exposure in sediment quality assessment. This collection of articles illustrates the steps needed to improve the scientific foundation for sediment quality assessment in regulatory applications. © 2012 SETAC.
Felicia Marcus, the chief water regulator in California as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, said the historic four-year drought in her state has been the "Godzilla of all wake-up calls" about what climate change could mean. That line, spoken at VERGE 2015, resonated. Californians have had to adjust big time to life with less water, with farmers and farm communities especially feeling the pinch, she noted in this VERGE studio interview. About 500,000 acres of farmland lay fallow in 2015 because of the drought, resulting in loss of jobs for thousands of farm workers and leaving some rural communities with dry faucets. But the state and its inhabitants also have learned to conserve water and make some wise choices about water use and innovation. Re-use of gray water, rain water catching and desalination are all part of the California experience. This forever-on-the-vanguard state has learned lessons about water conservation it can teach other regions which might face similar experiences as the climate warms.
Much of the torrential rain that fell on Southern California this week flowed right into the ocean, just like it did before the state's epic drought. That seemed like a good idea for many years, as storm drains provided a crucial defense against flooding. But with California entering what may be a fifth year of drought, water agencies slowly are moving to capture and store more of this precious resource. "That was the 19th, 20th century thinking: 'Let's get that water out of here as fast as possible,'" said Deborah Bloome, senior director of policy at TreePeople, a nonprofit group that is working to increase rain capture in the Los Angeles area. Now, people are more likely to see a rapidly disappearing flood — nearly 3 inches fell on much of Southern California this week — as a wasted opportunity. The State Water Resources Control Board approved a broad plan for capturing more rain. The regulator is launching a road show this month to explain how it will dole out $200 million for projects to collect rain, part of a $7.5 billion water bond voters approved in November 2014. Los Angeles expects to collect 3.3 billion more gallons a year from projects now under construction. The city eventually plans to capture 20 billion more gallons than the 10 billion it collects during normal years and up to 26 billion gallons during wet years. Still, many believe more can be done, through projects large and small. "This is a source of water that has been neglected for far too long," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, which authored a 2014 report with the Natural Resources Defense Council that estimated urban California could capture an additional 630,000 acre-feet of rain a year, roughly enough for 1.2 million households. "It is untapped, and it has enormous potential." Southern California imports a lion's share of its water from Northern California and the Colorado River, on aqueducts that stretch hundreds of miles. The drought has slashed water consumption across the state and renewed interest in developing new water sources, like recycling and seawater desalination. California's rainy season usually runs from January to early March with short but intense storms, creating a limited window. Parched Southern California needs the water most and has long had reservoirs to capture some of it. But much of the water dumped by El Nino's storms streamed down gutters and curbs through a concrete jungle, into drains that go into the Pacific. Los Angeles County captured 3.2 billion gallons during this week's storms as of Thursday afternoon, largely through 27 holding ponds, said Steven Frasher, a spokesman for the public works department. Water from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers flowed into fields that percolate into aquifers for future pumping. The Orange County Water District, which relies on rain capture for about 10 percent of its supplies to 2.4 million people south of Los Angeles, collected about 3.3 billion gallons from this week's storms as of Thursday afternoon. The captured water flows into the Army Corps of Engineers' Prado Dam and is slowly released 11 miles downstream on the Santa Ana River, to ponds that seep into an aquifer. The rest goes into the ocean. "In a dry year, we capture essentially all of it. In a big, wet year, we lose more. On average, we capture about 50 percent," said Greg Woodside, the agency's executive director of planning and natural resources. The San Diego region, unlike Los Angeles and Orange counties, lacks large ground aquifers that can store water. San Diego collected about 800 million gallons this week at nine reservoirs as of Thursday morning, city spokesman Kurt Kidman said. The region gets 7 percent of its water from rain on average and about 20 percent during the last El Nino storms in 1998, said Dana Friehauf, water resources manager for the San Diego County Water Authority. "There's the potential to do more," Friehauf said. "We have to look at the cost to our ratepayers and see what makes sense." In Los Angeles, the city gutted a 16-foot-wide concrete street median that runs the length of 12 football fields and replaced it with vegetation that captures rain over 111 acres. The $3.4 million project, completed in 2014, is designed to collect enough water to fill more than 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools a year. Bloome's group, TreePeople, operates a 216,000-gallon underground cistern at Coldwater Canyon Park, collecting rain from a conference center roof and a parking lot to be pumped for irrigation. Even smaller projects are being eyed for potentially big impact. In November, TreePeople unveiled a 1,320-gallon tank at a home in North Hollywood, which can be regulated remotely by computer to drain before major rain, ensuring there is room to capture water. The group plans to equip several more houses by next month. "We want to show folks this works for El Nino," Bloome said.
After four years of catastrophic drought and nearly a year of mandatory water conservation measures, Williams is joining a growing chorus of consumers in the wetter parts of the state to call for an end to restrictions they see as overbearing. Their argument is even winning over some of the water utilities charged with implementing the rules. "This whole concept of using less and paying more is a very hard pill to swallow," said Williams, who is so angry he is considering running for the board of his local water district. "We have plenty of water." Although February was relatively dry this year, it rained so much in parts of California in December and January that engineers began releasing water from Folsom Lake near Williams' Granite Bay home for flood control reasons. March unleashed a series of deluges that filled far bigger reservoirs up to and above their normal levels. Yet consumers must still meet water conservation requirements or face fines of $500 per violation per day. State regulators say California's first mandatory conservation orders, which were extended in February to the fall, are necessary until it is clear that wet weather will continue and there will be enough water to last through the summer. This conflict shows the complexity of long-term water supply issues in a state with vastly different geographic regions and gets to the heart of why Californians have fought over this resource for decades. It also feeds the distrust many residents already have for government, particularly in areas such as the state's wet northern coast. "People are just disgusted with the way it doesn't make any sense," said David Hull, general manager of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District on the far northern coast. "I don’t have a good answer for them. The answer is because the state told us. And that’s not a good answer to people." The battle over water in California dates back more than century. In 1907, William Mulholland began a quest to reroute water from the Sierra Nevada, the highest and longest mountain range in the contiguous United States, culminating in the opening of the Los Angeles aqueduct in 1913. Mulholland's success set the stage for Los Angeles to grow into the second-largest U.S. metropolis, but it also came at the cost of precious water for farmers and residents to the north. Coping with the latest drought, Governor Jerry Brown ordered first-of-their-kind mandates to cut overall water use by 25 percent, with some regions required to trim it by as much as 36 percent. By the end of January, the state was 96 percent of the way toward achieving its goal; numbers from February are not yet available. As Californians refrained from turning on their spigots, Mother Nature turned on hers over the state this winter. Reservoirs remain full for this time of year along the northern coast, in much of suburban San Francisco, and in parts of the Sacramento Valley. Because only a portion of the state's watersheds are connected to the massive system of dams and reservoirs that ferry water south, much of the water saved cannot be sold, shipped elsewhere or stored for next year. That makes conservation a hard sell. "People are just outraged," said Pamela Tobin, board president of the San Juan Water District, which supplies Sacramento's eastern suburbs with water from Folsom Lake and elsewhere. "The lake is filling, but our people are still being told that they need to conserve by 36 percent." That wariness is exacerbating a distrust of government that has been building for decades, said Thomas Holyoke, a professor who studies water politics at California State University, Fresno. "When consumers see what appears to be needless government waste, especially when it comes to as precious a resource as water, they immediately see the worst," Holyoke said. "This is the same distrust playing into the Trump and to some degree Bernie Sanders campaigns." Several municipalities and water districts have asked the state to reduce conservation targets, including north coast areas that say their supplies are robust. Even the San Diego County Water Authority, in the drier southern part of the state, has requested relief, and there are signs the message may be getting through. Barraged with complaints after extending the mandates to October, state water regulators have agreed to reconsider some cutbacks next month. But if spring rains do not materialize, the wet winter's gains may be lost, said Felicia Marcus, who chairs the State Water Resources Control Board. "We're in the better-safe-than-sorry approach," Marcus said. "People need to take the long view."
In 2014, about 95 percent of the juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon died because drought conditions made the Sacramento River too warm to sustain them. And this year's run has fared even worse: The National Marine Fisheries Service estimated there are 29 percent fewer juvenile salmon in the river compared with a year ago. Because the salmon have only a three-year spawning cycle, 2016 is shaping up as a critical year for the fish, who are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. "There's been the 'e-word' tossed around, extinction," said Garwin Yip, a branch chief with the fisheries agency, in testimony before the State Water Resources Control Board. In an effort to keep the fish alive, the water board is expected to vote on a proposal to hold back more water at Lake Shasta next summer. Holding more water at Shasta is designed to ensure the water that is released is colder, giving the juvenile salmon a better chance at survival. The water board hopes the plan will "create a margin of safety for fish and wildlife," said Diane Riddle, environmental program manager. But holding back more water at Shasta also would mean less water for downstream farms and cities. Farm groups have complained the Shasta plan likely would mean even more fallowing of farmland in 2016; more than 500,000 acres were idled this year. Meanwhile, environmental groups said the board's plan doesn't go far enough to preserve the salmon. Water board officials stressed that the plan would take effect only if conditions stay dry and El Nino rains don't materialize as forecast. If precipitation is heavy, the agency is prepared to tweak the plan.