Later this week, the State Water Resources Control Board will vote on a long-anticipated plan to reduce some of the pollutants flowing into Central Valley water. However, not everyone agrees on the details.
The program is called Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability, or CV-SALTS. It aims to provide cleaner water for drinking and irrigation by reducing the nitrate and salt that are discharged into ground and surface water. Nitrate in drinking water can be toxic to developing fetuses and infants, in extreme cases causing “blue baby syndrome” in which babies don’t receive enough oxygen from the blood, and high salt concentrations can be harmful to agriculture.
A decade in the making, the plan is the result of a collaborative effort between a variety of groups including cities, agricultural interests and disadvantaged communities, who generally agree the plan represents a compromise. Last week, the state water board released a resolution proposing a handful of changes to the plan, which it will vote on next week.
A sticking point, however, is that the resolution allows those stakeholders that discharge nitrate, the biggest being agriculture, up to 45 years to bring their nitrate discharges down to acceptable levels. Though that timeframe is a reduction from the 75 years written into an earlier draft of the plan, Jonathan Nelson of the advocacy group Community Water Center says it’s still too long. “If we allowed pollution to drinking water in Beverly Hills for, say, up to 45 years, there would be an outcry,” he says.
California Citrus Mutual Director Casey Creamer agrees the plan isn’t perfect, but he says it is an improvement over how these nutrients are currently managed. He can’t say whether 45 years is a reasonable phase-out period for the agricultural interests he represents, but he points out that properly managing nitrate does take time. “We’d love for it to be tomorrow too, and so [this plan] is just a recognition that it’s a complex system,” he says.
The state water board will vote on the plan and resolution on Wednesday.