Valley Water Management May Be Putting Groundwater at Risk
The Central Valley Water Regional Quality Control Board has issued a Cease and Desist Order requiring Valley Water Management Co. (VWMC), an oil field wastewater disposal center, to either bring its McKittrick 1 and 1-3 Facility into compliance with water quality regulations or stop discharging wastewater at the facility.
“Valley Water provides a valuable service to the oil industry in Kern County, but discharges from the McKittrick facility must not put groundwater beneficial uses at risk,” said Patrick Pulupa, Executive Officer of the Central Valley Water Board. “With this Cease and Desist Order (CDO), the Board has said that if this facility cannot be brought into compliance with current regulations, discharges at the facility must cease.”
In California, water and oil are co-mingled in underground oil-bearing geologic formations, and both oil and water are brought to the surface during production. That water is called “produced water,” which is known to have naturally occurring contaminants like salinity, chloride, and boron that make the water unsuitable for human consumption or to irrigate agricultural crops.
VWMC disposes of poor-quality produced water from the South Belridge, Cymric, and McKittrick oil fields at the Facility. The Facility has 163 acres of unlined disposal ponds where, according to the company’s recent reporting, 2.8 million gallons of produced water are discharged each day.
In issuing the CDO, the Board found that the cumulative effect of disposing produced water at the facility over many decades has created a highly saline wastewater plume that is migrating to the northeast, where it threatens higher-quality groundwater designated as supporting municipal and agricultural uses.
The CDO requires VWMC to complete a full characterization of the nature and extent of wastewater impacts, an important step toward protecting the beneficial uses of groundwater. If VWMC cannot demonstrate that its discharges at the facility are not causing pollution, the CDO requires VWMC to either upgrade the facility or cease discharging produced water.
The Central Valley Water Board is a state agency responsible for the preservation and enhancement of the quality of California’s water resources. For more information, visit the Board’s website, https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley.
Water Use Efficiency Grants: Beneficial or Double Jeopardy for California Farming? Or both?
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Through a competitive joint pilot grant program, the Agricultural Water Use Efficiency and State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) jointly intend to demonstrate the potential multiple benefits of conveyance enhancements combined with on-farm agricultural water use efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas reductions.
The grant funding provided in this joint program is intended to address multiple goals including:
Water use efficiency, conservation and reduction
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction
Groundwater Protection, and
Sustainability of agricultural operations and food production
Are these competitive grants promoted by DWR and CDFA providing financial support for further compliance or insulting to farmers who have already met and exceeded these stockpiling regulations? Or both?
I would like to address each goal, one by one.
Water Use Efficiency
I challenge DWR and CDFA to find one California farmer who is using water inefficiently or without regard to conservation. Grant or no grant, many farmers in the state have lost most of their contracted surface water deliveries due to the Endangered Species Act, which serves to save endangered species, an important goal we all share, but does so at any cost.
In addition, DWR is now threatening to take 40 percent of the surface water from the Tuolumne River and other tributaries of the San Joaquin River from February 1 to June 30, every year, to increase flows to the Delta to help save the declining smelt and salmon. This will severely curtail water deliveries to the Modesto Irrigation District (MID)and Turlock Irrigation District (TID)—population centers as well as critical farm areas.
This proposal, which disregards legal landowner water rights and human need, would force MID and TID to dedicate 40 percent of surface water flows during the defined time period every year, with no regulatory sunset, for beneficial fish and wildlife uses and salinity control. The proposal disregards other scientifically acknowledged stressors such as predatory nonnative non-native striped bass and largemouth bass, partially treated sewage from Delta cities, and, according to the Bay Delta Fish & Wildlife Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region, invasive organisms, exotic species of zooplankton and a voracious plankton-eating clam in the Delta from foreign ships that historically dumped their ballast in San Francisco waters.
While many farmers have fallowed their farmland, other farmers across the state have resorted to reliance on groundwater to keep their permanent crops (trees and vines) alive. The new DWR proposal to divert 40 percent of MID and TID surface water will force hundreds of growers in this region—the only groundwater basin in the Valley that is not yet critically overdrafted—to use more groundwater.
In a joint statement, MID and TID said, “Our community has never faced a threat of this proportion. MID and TID have continued to fight for the water resource that was entrusted to us 129 years ago.”
Ironically, farmers want to reduce their groundwater needs because groundwater has always functioned in the state as a water savings bank for emergency use during droughts and not as a primary source of irrigation. But massive non-drought related federal and state surface water cutbacks have forced farmers to use more groundwater.
Golden State farmers are doing everything possible not to further elevate nitrates in their groundwater. Some nitrate findings left by farmers from generations ago are difficult to clean up.
But the DWR and CFA grant wants California agriculture to do more!
Sustainability of Agricultural Operations and Food Production
Virtually, no one is more sustainable than a multi-generational farmer. Each year, family farmers improve their land in order to produce robust crops, maintain their livelihoods, enrich the soil for the long term, and fortify the health and safety of their agricultural legacy for future generations.
California farmers will continue to do all they can to improve irrigation methods and track their crop protection product use.
And so, I ask again, is this beneficial or double jeopardy for California farming? Or both?
Through a competitive grant program, the Agricultural Water Use Efficiency & State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) jointly intend to demonstrate the potential multiple benefits of conveyance enhancements combined with on-farm agricultural water use efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas reductions.
The grant funding provided in this joint program is intended to address multiple goals including:
water use efficiency, conservation and reduction,
greenhouse gas emission reductions,
groundwater protection, and
sustainability of agricultural operations and food production.
It is also anticipated that there will be benefits to water and air quality, groundwater security, surface water conservation, and improved nutrient management and crop health through this program. Excellent proposals will demonstrate the specific regional needs and benefits of their proposals.
Deadline for submitting public comments is September 30, 2016.
The program will be administered as a competitive grant program and will include a joint application process involving agricultural water suppliers and agricultural operators within the service area.
Projects that enhance and upgrade the supplier’s water conveyance, delivery and water measurement system to allow on-demand and flexible farm-gate deliveries, reduce spills and losses, increase the efficiency, and improve water management. A water supplier’s proposed project must generate State benefits to be eligible for grant funding.
Benefits to the State include:
increased in-stream flow or improved flow timing
improved water quality; increased energy conservation
reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
increased local water supply reliability.
The project must be located within California.
On-farm agricultural operations must achieve both GHG emission reductions and water savings to be eligible for funding. In addition, projects must: (i) use the associated improvements made to the surface water conveyance system proposed by the associated agricultural water supplier as part of the joint application, and (ii) eliminate on-farm groundwater pumping.
To be eligible for funding, projects are not required to be in an adopted Integrated Regional Water Management Plan or to comply with that program, but preference will be given for projects that are.
The following entities involved with water management are eligible to apply: Public agencies, public utilities, federally recognized or state Indian tribes on California’s Tribal consultation list, nonprofit organizations, mutual water companies, and investor-owned utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Applicants that are agricultural water suppliers and/or urban water suppliers should inquire for further information.
DWR has set aside $3 million from Proposition 1 to incentivize the water conveyance component of this joint agricultural water use efficiency and enhancement program. Proposition 1 requires that agricultural water suppliers provide a 50% cost share of total project costs.
CDFA has also set aside $3 million from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) to incentivize the installation of irrigation systems that save water and reduce greenhouse gases on farms in the area that will directly benefit from the conveyance system incentivized by DWR. The maximum grant award per agricultural operation is $200,000 with a recommended, but not required, 50% match of the total project cost. CDFA reserves the right to offer an award different than the amount requested.
Separate contracts with each department will be necessary to receive both sets of funds. A joint proposal may include a request for up to $3 million for the water supplier’s conveyance upgrades (to be funded by DWR) and up to $3 million for enhancements of on-farm agricultural operations to be funded by CDFA (with a cap of $200,000 per operation). This would allow for 15 agricultural operations (at $200,000 each) to partner with the water supplier to submit the joint proposal at the maximum award amount of $6 million. More than 15 agricultural operations could be funded if amounts lower than the cap are requested in individual agricultural operator applications.