Wastewater Treatment Plant in Delta Causing Problems

Harmful Algal Blooms Impacting Watershed

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board updated its regulations on nutrient discharges into the San Francisco Bay watershed recently to protect the watershed from harmful effects of discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants and other sources.

Although San Francisco Bay is not impaired by nutrients, it is a nutrient-enriched estuary with higher nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations than most estuaries in the world. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous can lead to harmful algal blooms, which can release toxins to the Bay. Harmful algal blooms can also result in low dissolved oxygen or insufficient oxygen in the water to support aquatic life.

In the Bay, nitrogen has the biggest influence on phytoplankton growth, and the Region’s municipal wastewater treatment plants account for 65 percent of the nitrogen discharged to the Bay. Regional population growth will increase these nitrogen discharges.

The regulatory update, in the form of a reissue of the Nutrients Watershed Permit first adopted in 2014, provides a consistent approach for regulating nutrient discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants in the San Francisco Bay watershed.

The first Nutrients Watershed Permit required sewage treatment agencies to: (1) monitor their discharges, (2) support scientific studies to evaluate the Bay’s response to current and future nutrient loads, and (3) evaluate opportunities to remove nitrogen through treatment plant improvements.
This update will increase monitoring and scientific studies. Importantly, it requires treatment agencies to evaluate opportunities to remove nitrogen using “green” solutions, like routing wastewater through treatment wetlands and wastewater recycling.

These types of opportunities may provide water quality benefits beyond nutrient removal, for example, by providing protection against climate change through carbon sequestration and adaptation of the shoreline to address sea-level rise. Green solutions can also remove additional contaminants of emerging concern for water quality.

Collaboration Among Government Agencies and CA Rice Commission Germinates in Win-Win Policy

Collaboration Results in Win-Win Endangered Fish/Safe Thiobencarb Use Policy

By Laurie Greene, CalAgToday Editor and Reporter

Roberta Firoved, Industry Affairs Manager for the California Rice Commission
Roberta Firoved, Industry Affairs Manager for the California Rice Commission

Roberta Firoved, Industry Affairs Manager for the California Rice Commission, stated in a press release Wednesday, “A great example of our positive relationship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is found in the recent press release, ‘U.S. EPA, federal and state agencies, rice growers, industry act to protect endangered salmon and steelhead trout in California.’”

In the release, Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, states, “Working closely with our state and federal partners, our joint efforts will protect salmon and steelhead trout while maintaining rice production in California. This action also supports EPA’s commitment to minimize pesticide pollution in the San Francisco Bay Delta.”

“This is a smart approach to pesticide use that includes important safeguards for protected fish while still allowing growers to care for their crops,” said Will Stelle, administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) West Coast Region, in the same release. “This demonstrates that we can find balanced and workable solutions through collaboration.”

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) established measures to protect salmon and steelhead trout based on proximity to endangered and threatened species habitat according to NOAA Fisheries geographic locations, as well as information and best management practices from the California Rice Commission and its grower members, plus the California Regional Water Quality Control Board – Central Valley Region. U.S. EPA and Valent, the manufacturer of the herbicide thiobencarb, also worked to put these restrictions in place.

After reviewing CDPR’s data on pesticide use and the state’s protective measures to be enforced by County Agriculture Commissioners, NOAA Fisheries found that thiobencarb use on rice in California would not jeopardize salmon and steelhead trout provided protective measures currently being applied in California are ensured.

“The positive approach we applied throughout development of the thiobencarb use conditions,” Firoved explained, “expanded into our interaction with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) as they researched and wrote the biological opinion (BiOp) for thiobencarb.”

Thiobencarb is a systemic, pre-emergence herbicide in liquid or a granular formulation that inhibits shoots of emerging weed seedlings. First registered for use on rice in 1982, thiobencarb is used to control grasses, sedge and broadleaf weeds in food crops such s rice (represents 95% of use), lettuce, celery, and endive. Thiobencarb, or Valent’s Bolero® UltraMax Herbicide, may be applied using ground spray equipment or by aircraft.

“The win for rice growers is that the farming practices developed over time are also protective of endangered species. We always assumed this to be the case, and entrusted the thiobencarb BiOp for confirmation.

Reflecting on the successful collaboration, Firoved stated, “We have no magic bullet, nor do we approach the issues with contention. Our perspective is that all participants around the table are looking for the same end result, no matter where they work.”