When it comes to water news in Southern California, the drought dominated headlines for several years. But having enough water for everyone who lives and works here isn’t the only water concern we face. Our water needs to be clean, too. We expect that when we turn on our kitchen sinks, the water that flows out is consistently clean and safe for cooking, cleaning and drinking.
The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) Basin Monitoring Program Task Force works collectively to share resources and monitor surface and groundwater quality in the Santa Ana River Watershed. As home to approximately 6 million people, residents and businesses throughout the region rely in part on groundwater from the Santa Ana River Watershed (the natural ecological system including the river and its tributaries) and the five water agencies that comprise SAWPA. These five water agencies – Eastern Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Orange County Water District, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, and Western Municipal Water District – collaborate on water projects and programs affecting the watershed to bring clean water to businesses and homes.
SAWPA administers task forces like the Basin Monitoring Program Task Force, a 20-agency task force formed 15 years ago, to monitor nitrogen and total dissolved solids (TDS) for water quality compliance in the Santa Ana River Watershed. Excessive nitrogen and TDS can impact drinking water. Too much nitrogen can stimulate growth of algae in water. TDS are the concentrations of solids in water. Both nitrogen and TDSs need to be monitored in order to ensure that Orange County water resources downstream are protected.
The Task Force brings together key cities and water agencies as well as the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, this region’s local water quality regulatory agency, to work together on the complex job of monitoring and improving water quality. Task Force members include the cities of Banning, Beaumont, Corona, Redlands, Rialto, Riverside and the Jurupa Community Services District, plus the following water agencies:
- Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District
- Chino Basin Watermaster
- Colton/San Bernardino Regional Tertiary Treatment and Wastewater Reclamation
- Eastern Municipal Water District
- Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District
- Inland Empire Utilities Agency
- Irvine Ranch Water District
- Temescal Valley Water District
- Orange County Water District
- San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District
- San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency
- Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board
- West Riverside County Regional Wastewater Authority
- Yucaipa Valley Water District
The Task Force compiles and collects monitoring data to evaluate water quality annually and the groundwater basins throughout the watershed every three years; provides guidance on wastewater treatment plant discharge permits; and conducts additional water quality studies to monitor and evaluate salt and nitrate trends.
By bringing so many cities and water agencies together every month for meetings over the past 15 years, this Task Force has built relationships and greatly improved efficiencies in water and wastewater operations through joint studies on dealing with salt in the water. The Task Force also saves its members millions of dollars due to collaboration and economies of scale.
The Basin Monitoring Program Task Force is a success because the members understand that we have only one Santa Ana River Watershed to share and the water in it belongs to everyone, now and in the future.
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Earthquakes are a reality for over 39 million residents living in California. While the state is known for its beautiful beaches, glamorous Hollywood scene and nature, it’s difficult to think about California and not make the connection with earthquakes. With the recent quakes, many Californians are reminded of this eminent reality, but are they prepared?
The Southern Earthquake Center developed the Community Fault Model database and has documented over 140 faults considered capable of producing moderate to large earthquakes in the state. In fact, Southern California’s recent string of earthquakes has kickstarted conversations surrounding preparedness for the next “big one.”
In the case of an earthquake, your water agency will provide you with the necessary information regarding the safety of the water that you receive at your home. It’s important to heed warnings from them and follow safety information provided. During an earthquake, infrastructure can be damaged, which can create a disruption in service or possible contamination.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are three main phases to prepare for a disaster such as a moderate or large earthquake which include:
Step One: Protecting yourself before an earthquake
Step Two: Protecting yourself during an earthquake
Step Three: Protecting yourself after an earthquake
FEMA elaborates on what it takes to protect yourself before an earthquake. Although no one wants to imagine a scenario where an earthquake causes a disaster scenario, it is best to be prepared for yourself, your family and pets. Assembling an emergency kit is crucial for earthquake preparedness and should first and foremost include water. FEMA states that you should “Ensure you have at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days. (Store a longer than 3-day supply of water, if possible). An average person needs to drink about 3/4 of a gallon of fluid daily. Individual needs vary depending on age, gender, health, level of activity, food choices, and climate. You may also need stored water for food preparation.” Essentially, make sure you have enough stored water readily accessible and saved only for emergencies that is sufficient to cover your household’s most basic needs.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control established guidelines to follow regarding best practices for safe tap water usage after a natural disaster, such as a large earthquake. Under Things you should do, the CDC lists the following after an earthquake:
- Listen for announcements from local officials to find out what to do. They will tell you if there are bacteria and/or chemicals in the water.
- Boil water, if instructed. Boil it for at least 1 minute (start counting when the water comes to a constant boil). Let the water cool sufficiently before drinking. Boiling kills germs in the water.
- Use bottled water, if instructed. Sometimes after a disaster, there may be chemicals in the water that boiling cannot remove.
Public utility agencies understand the threat that earthquakes pose to water supplies and work diligently to have emergency plans in place. Be sure to have a personal plan in place for your household too, and make sure that water is a top priority.
A task force encourages collaboration among multiple agencies to tackle challenges in a cooperative manner. The Santa Ana Watershed Project Association (SAWPA) facilitates several task forces in order to take on complex matters that are more effectively handled collectively.
In 2008, SAWPA organized the Emerging Constituents Task Force in an effort to work with the Regional Water Quality Resources Control Board and help improve water quality along the Santa Ana River Watershed. The 21-agency Task Force identifies emerging constituents of concern, which can include, chemicals of emerging concern, microconstituents, micropollutants, trace organics and other elements. The voluntary testing conducted by the Task Force investigates pharmaceuticals, pesticides, food additives and chemicals that may not yet have established water quality standards. By testing for emerging constituents, the Task Force is able to evaluate water quality in the Santa Ana River, in imported water, as well as in recycled water.
Emerging Constituents Task Force Goal: Assure water quality protection resulting from imported water recharge
- Conduct regional evaluation of emerging constituents in drinking water sources
- Identify the potential regulatory issues that may arise as result of emerging constituents data
- Create an emerging constituent characterization programs as needed
- Continue to educate the public about the safety of potable drinking water
The Task Force used a two-phase approach to first investigate the potential contaminants in the water and then later identifying them. Beginning with researching potential regulatory issues associated with sampling and later investigating which constituents to monitor, the Task Force works to ensure that water that water quality is monitored. By partnering with water quality experts, SAWPA and the Task Force are able to determine the locations and constituents for testing. In February 2019, the Task Force reconvened to discuss prior testing results and determine what constituents will be monitored in the following round of tests.
Water testing can be costly, by working collaboratively, Task Force agencies cost-share the financial responsibility, as well as have access to the data needed for sampling and reporting of constituents. The Task Force was instrumental in working with the State Board’s Blue Ribbon Panel to develop statewide monitoring requirements for emerging constituents. In 2013, the State Board amended the state’s Recycled Water Policy to the adopt the recommendations made by the Emerging Constituents Task Force.
As part of the Task Force, outreach to build awareness on the safety of tap water is implemented. Through this blog and its social media channels, SAWPA and the task Force utilizes these tools to educate on the topic of water quality.
In the Santa Ana River Watershed, water distributed to customers by water purveyors undergoes regular, rigorous testing to ensure it is meeting all state and federal standards.
Up next in ensuring that water continues to meet these high standards set forth in the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act is the monitoring of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, which include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and many other chemicals.
The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) – led Emerging Constituents Program Task Force, which includes the Orange County Water District and the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, along with roughly 20 other agencies in the Santa Ana River Watershed will be compiling independent data on PFAS.
The samples will be collected from all upstream wastewater treatment plant discharges into the Santa Ana River and its tributaries, as well as imported water released to the upper watershed to ensure that data is made available not solely from Orange County, but from the upper Santa Ana River Watershed. The data compiled will be shared with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board as a sampling report of the PFAS concentrations, as well as an update on a past list of emerging constituents sampled in the watershed seven years ago.
But, what are PFAS substances and what do they have to do with our water supply?
PFAS are fluorinated organic chemicals used to make items such as carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture and paper packaging for food. Additionally, they were used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes. These chemicals are resistant to heat, water, and oil and have been used for decades in hundreds of industrial applications and consumer products. PFAS have been found both in the environment and in blood samples of the general U.S. population.
Although certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase outs, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the country in consumer goods. And, due to the prolonged use of PFOA and PFOS in many common consumer products, the chemicals have been known to enter the water cycle through conventionally treated wastewater discharges from sewage treatment facilities, landfills and locations where the substances were used outdoors.
Most people have been exposed to these chemicals through consumer products, but drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have entered water supplies. Research has shown that these chemicals don’t break down in the environment, can linger in the human body, and can lead to adverse health effects.
The EPA is working together to support states, tribes and local communities to address the environmental challenges of PFAS and identify solutions.
Orange County Water District’s Proactive Testing of PFAS.
Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) forward-thinking team of early adopters began testing for PFAS in 2012. This testing of water from OCWD’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GRWS) showed then and continues to show now that the final water produced at the GWRS is non-detect for PFOA and PFOS.
From 2013-2015, OCWD also performed testing for Orange County groundwater retail agencies for Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) 3. PFOA and PFOS were among the six PFAS compounds on the UCMR 3 Contaminant List. The UCMR data serve as a primary source of occurrence and exposure information that EPA uses to develop regulatory decisions. After the completion of UCMR3, in May 2016 the EPA issued a new Health Advisory for lifetime exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water set at a combined 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L). A nanogram is also known as a “part-per-trillion” and one nanogram per liter is the equivalent of four grains of sugar dissolved in 26 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Based on preliminary information from EPA, 63 water suppliers in the United States detected PFOA and PFOS in their drinking water supplies. Twenty-six of these water systems are located in California. Water systems in Orange County heeded the advisory and only serve water that meets that threshold.
The California Division of Drinking Water (DDW) sent monitoring orders in March 2019 to over 200 public water systems across the state to test for PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS; 12 systems in the Orange County Water District service area received such orders. Earlier this year, OCWD’s Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory became the first public agency laboratory in California to achieve state certification to analyze for these compounds in drinking water. The first round of testing is expected to be completed in June and required notifications will be made to local government officials by July. Additional testing will be conducted on a quarterly basis. Wells were selected based on proximity to either landfills, municipal airports, or past detections of PFAS in wells during the UCMR 3 round of testing. The data provided by this testing will help DDW determine state standards for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
In July 2018, DDW established interim Notification Levels and Response Levels for PFOA and PFOS. Results above these levels requires agencies to notify the governing body for the areas where the water has been served within 30 days of receiving the verifying test results. State Notification Levels are set at 14 ng/L for PFOA and 13 ng/L for PFOS. If the level of both PFOA and PFOS combined is 70 ng/L or above, DDW recommends the agency stop using the well. This is known as the Response Level.
“We continue to proactively monitor and protect our groundwater supply and look for ways to assist our regional water producers with opportunities to provide some of the cleanest drinking water in the world,” said OCWD’s Executive Director of Water Quality & Technical Resources, Jason Dadakis. “The information available about PFAS and the technology for testing continues to improve. OCWD is committed to staying current with changing technology for both detection and treatment.”
Next Steps for OCWD
Groundwater monitoring and public health are top priorities for OCWD, and the district continues to monitor and protect the groundwater supply through:
- Assisting producers to comply with requirements from the Department of Drinking Water and EPA
- Supporting water producers with notifications, testing and coordination as needed
- Continuing to work with the Regional Water Quality Board and independent labs to further test to identify potential sources
- Coordinating to monitor to define the extent of compounds in the groundwater basin and recharge water supplies
- Pilot testing of remediation options
- Communicating transparently and regularly with stakeholders
For more information about PFOA/PFOS or water quality testing, visit www.ocwd.com or contact your local water provider for information specific to your community. Information is also available at www.epa.gov/pfas and www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/PFOA_PFOS.
This month commemorates the 50th anniversary of a momentous water rights and management agreement between four water agencies in the Santa Ana River Watershed, which was made possible thanks to two 1969 court judgements for the water rights of the Santa Ana River.
“These two judgements have had a positive and lasting effect for all residents in the Santa Ana River Watershed,” said SAWPA’s General Manager Richard Haller. “Communities in the watershed enjoy a reliable water supply while ensuring both upstream and downstream water interests and rights are protected.”
Five decades ago, the Santa Ana River had been facing years of substantial legal disputes over surface and groundwater rights that included more than 4,000 litigants, which led to two major lawsuits filed by Western Municipal Water District and Orange County Water District.
In order to bring the lawsuits to an end on April 17, 1969, it was legally decided that rights to the Santa Ana River would be managed by four representative parties, which include Western Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency (formerly known as Chino Basin Municipal Water District), San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and Orange County Water District.
A look at the two judgements known as the 1969 settlement:
- The Orange County Judgement provides water users in the lower basin rights to receive minimum and average water flows that are measured at several locations throughout the region. San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, Western Municipal Water District and Inland Empire Utilities Agency are required to maintain minimum base flow requirements. Through this judgement the Santa Ana River Watermaster Committee was formed.
- The Western-San Bernardino Judgement divided water resources in the San Bernardino Basin Area, Colton Basin and Riverside Basin in San Bernardino and Riverside counties and led to the formation of the Western-San Bernardino Watermaster Committee.
Both the Santa Ana River Water Master and Western-San Bernardino Watermaster committees are required to demonstrate compliance with the judgements through submitting an annual report to the court.
Another important outcome of the judgement, was the development of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, which was established to resolve any future water conflicts in the watershed and implemented project and programs to protect the water resources for future generations.
The ongoing partnership of the Watermaster committees ensures a more reliable, affordable and higher-quality water supply for regional customers; improvement of ecosystems as well as development of an endangered species recovery program; and improved water infrastructure and planning. Additionally, the forward-thinking settlement allows for future changes in hydrology, agency actions and governance.
The largest watershed in Southern California is the Santa Ana River Watershed. Boasting an area covering roughly 2,840 square miles and more than 6 million people, the watershed includes portions of the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. The largest coastal stream in Southern California is the Santa Ana River. The river starts high in the San Bernardino Mountains and eventually ends 96 miles downstream in the Pacific Ocean. It meanders through diverse terrain, including alpine forest, arid desert, chaparral environments and flat coastal plains.
*Photos courtesy of Orange County Water District and Western Municipal Water District.