(CN) – California’s water regulator paved the way for the increased use of recycled water on the same day it instituted new pesticide thresholds for a river on the central coast.
The State Water Resources Control Board unanimously passed regulations that hold local water agencies accountable for the amount of pesticides that flow from agricultural operations into the Salinas River.
“I understand the benefits of pyrethroid pesticide use as it makes food production possible at this time,” said water control board member Steven Moore.
Pyrethroid pesticides describe a class of effective insect killers often applied by commercial farm operations large and small and are available for household use as well.
While generally thought to be harmless to vertebrates, recent studies have indicated excessive exposure could be linked to the development of childhood Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
Furthermore, the pesticide class is deadly to beneficial invertebrates like honey bees, dragonflies, mayflies and gadflies.
The Salinas River is saturated with pyrethroid pesticides, according to water control board staff.
“We took 159 samples from the Salinas River and 70 percent of them were found to be toxic,” said Peter Meertens, with the water control board.
The Lower Salinas River watershed, which is where the toxicity problem is centered, comprises about 25,000 acres, the city of Salinas, with a population of about 150,000 people and three other smaller towns.
A leading producer of strawberries, lettuce, artichokes and broccoli, the Salinas River Valley agricultural industry contributes nearly $4.65 billion to the local economy and is a major national food provider.
But regional water quality issues persist, prompting the water control board to pass what is called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) relating to the class of pesticides.
A TMDL established the maximum amount of a particular substance that may be introduced to a given water system on a daily basis.
If the region continues to exceed the newly established parameters, further regulations will be integrated before fines and other punitive measures will be introduced, Meertens said.
The water control board also adopted regulations meant to guide municipalities looking to use recycled wastewater as a means to increase their water supply.
Cities like San Diego have plans in place to build advanced water purification plants capable of taking wastewater and purifying it to the point where it could be once again used as potable water.
Despite the yuck factor, the proposals have gained traction in California, where water scarcity for cities has become more common with prolonged droughts that figure to get worse in an era of increasing global surface temperatures.
The water control board approved regulations make it easier for municipalities to construct the advanced purification plants, knowing they won’t run into regulatory hurdles.
“This is a major milestone for us as a state,” said Jennifer West, the executive director of WateReuse.
After purification, the water is then diverted to a reservoir, where it mixes with other water that comprises a given area’s drinking water source. Once the water is withdrawn from the reservoir, it is subjected to the treatment process common to most drinking water in California.
“I appreciate that this was a science-based, data-driven process,” Moore said.