Is the Drought Drowned Out?: End of Drought Emergency and Release of Long-Term Conservation Framework


Photo credit: KTLA

This month Governor Jerry Brown declared California’s drought-induced state of emergency officially over for the majority of the state. Even with the emergency called off, however, future drought remains a real threat to the Golden State. In response, California water agencies released a joint framework for long-term water conservation moving forward. Will water conservation become a way of life in California? Our friends at the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) published the following article explaining where we stand and what’s to come:

Record rains this water year and increased levels of water conservation were cited by the governor in his decision to lift the drought emergency. Water reporting requirements by local agencies and the prohibition of wasteful water practices such as watering lawns during or after a rainfall will remain in place.

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” Brown stated in a written release. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn issued a statement praising the lifting of the drought emergency.

“We are glad to see the governor’s action today to lift the drought emergency declaration for most of the state. The statewide emergency clearly is over, but it makes sense to continue to assist areas where emergency drinking water projects are still needed in hard-hit areas,” said Quinn.

Quinn also stressed that water agencies across the state are not “letting our guard down when it comes to using water efficiently on an ongoing basis.”

“Local water agencies are committed to conservation and long-term water efficiency as a way of life, and they have not waited for this moment to take action,” said Quinn. “They are actively investing in programs, education and incentives to help their customers adopt sustainable practices and make changes that result in permanent water savings.”

In a media call, State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus said she expects the State Water Board in May to lift the requirement for local water agencies to undergo and report the results of so-called “stress tests” that indicate whether they have enough water supply for three additional dry years.

Marcus also thanked Californians for the ongoing conservation efforts.

“Californians everywhere have risen to the occasion with their conservation actions,” said Marcus.

Officials stressed that the impacts of California’s unprecedented drought remain, and many communities still need assistance.

“We all know how hard hit… our rural communities were hit,” said California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross.

Ross and other state officials pledged support for communities still grappling with the impacts of the drought.

The full text of today’s executive order can be found here.

Brown’s executive order B-40-17 lifts the drought emergency in all California counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies. The order also rescinds two previous emergency proclamations from January and April 2014 and four droughtrelatedexecutiveorders issued in 2014 and 2015.

Executive Order B-37-16, remains in effect, and is part of the state’s efforts to continue making water conservation a way of life in California. This order maintains water use reporting requirements and pledges the state continued work to coordinate a statewide response on the unprecedented bark beetle outbreak in drought-stressed forests that has killed millions of trees across California.

State agencies today also released a long-term conservation framework that seeks to continue to make conservation a way of life in California.  A draft of the framework was released in November and ACWA and other stakeholders provided significant input to inform the drafting of the final framework. The final framework allows local water agencies to set their own conservation targets based on standards set by the state. The state has yet to set these standards. They are intended to be tailored to meet local hydrological conditions, population, industry and other conditions. The process to establish the standards will begin in 2018. They are expected to go into effect in 2021.

The framework will require new legislation in order to be adopted.

To read the original article by Pamela Martineau published on ACWA’s website, click here

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FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety: Understanding the Importance of Water Testing Requirements

Last month U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials notified produce industry leaders that there would be a review of the Produce Safety Rule’s water quality requirements to address industry concerns, resulting in a likely delay in compliance.

As of now, the FDA has responded by ensuring the industry that while the water testing requirements are a pricier investment, they save considerable time and cost when it comes to the consequences of foodborne illnesses. Dr. Samir Assar, director of the Division of Produce Safety, explained that the FDA “anticipates that the final rule will bring about a reduction of over 60 percent in the risk of contamination from agricultural water, or a reduction of about 20 percent in the total number of foodborne illnesses associated with produce, with a corresponding reduction of $477 million in the costs of foodborne illnesses.” The cost to produce growers, on the other hand, has been estimated by the FDA to be “approximately $37 million dollars annually, which represents an average cost to a single farm of approximately $1,058 per year,” according to Dr. Assar.

So how did the FDA establish these water quality and testing requirements for irrigation water? In short, the agency has looked to scientific research and the EPA for help determining water quality criteria. Dr. Assar explained that the Safety Produce Rule and its water quality requirements stem, in part, from the EPA’s recreational water criteria because epidemiological studies have shown that people get sick after swallowing recreational water that is contaminated with feces. The types of water used for agricultural water are diverse, but agricultural water is estimated to be the most important pathway of contamination, which is why the presence of generic E. coli is a concern. E. coli is a consistent indicator of fecal contamination, and increased fecal contamination heightens the likelihood that disease-causing microorganisms are present.

While these new regulations may appear daunting to produce growers, it is important to remember that there are professionals who are well-versed in microbial determinations in water that are prepared to help. Babcock Laboratories has been certified to test for microbial contaminants in water for 90 years and in that time we have helped numerous clients—big and small, public and private—comply with regulatory requirements. Moreover, we offer testing services that are specific to the food and beverage industry. We are certain that our experience and team of knowledgeable and friendly professionals will help relieve some of the burden associated with understanding and complying with the water quality and testing requirements outlined in the FSMA final rule.

To read the FDA’s response to concerns regarding the establishment of requirements for water quality and testing, click here. To learn more about Babcock Labs’ food and beverage testing services, click here.

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Water Loss: New CA Law Will Impact Water Utilities

Senate Bill 555, which requires large urban water utilities to file water loss audits, will go into effect this October. These water loss audits are designed to improve water supply efficiency in the State. Under the law large utilities are defined as urban water utilities treating more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually or with more than 3,000 connections, which means 410 California utilities are subject to the law.

To better understand the new law, Water Deeply recently interviewed Todd Thompson, a senior engineer at the California Department of Water Resources who is in charge of drafting the regulations. Water Deeply reports:

Q: Is this completely new in California?

A: The reporting requirement is completely new. But there are quite a few water suppliers conducting audits either of their own volition as a good practice, or as a part of being with the California Urban Water Conservation Council, which requires its members to estimate losses. I believe somewhere around 60 percent of the 410 large suppliers are already doing some form of water loss audit.

Q: Why is it important to create a formal process and make the results public?

A: It’s part of improving best management practices on the water supply side. And it is a first step in improving system operation and efficiency.

You conduct a water loss audit to get an estimate of where the water is going and how much is being lost as a result of either meter errors, water theft or actual leaks in the system. The water loss audit is the first step in making that determination. It’s important in California, as it is everywhere, to make sure we use our resources as wisely as possible and as efficiently as possible. Water loss auditing is a step in that direction.

Q: How much do we know about water loss today?

A: There have been estimations made. I’m reluctant to cite those because I really have never been able to put my finger on the data where those numbers came from. I’m not sure how accurate it is, so I really don’t want to push numbers that may not have really any value to them. But the rule of thumb is around 10 percent. But it can be higher than that.

Q: But this is really about more than water losses, right?

A: It definitely is. By being efficient with the water that’s being treated and transmitted through distribution systems, a utility can definitely reduce its operations cost, because it’s not losing water that they’ve put value into. In addition to that, it is a way to make sure, if there are any real losses happening that would impact the infrastructure in the area – such as roads and buildings – they can catch those before they become a real problem. There have been plenty of places where a leak has gotten bigger, to a point where it swallows cars or does significant damage to the roads.

In that regard, it’s more than just being proactive toward water conservation. It actually makes good sense in terms of fiscal responsibility – and liability, to some degree – when you talk about damage to roads and existing infrastructure.

Q: What are other states doing about managing water loss?

A: To the level that we are looking at for our requirements, the only state that has an equivalent program is the state of Georgia. That was also a result of a drought they went through. They are at least six years ahead of us. I think their law started in 2010. They’ve had good acceptance with it and actually we are using some of the info they’ve learned in our program. We have gained from their experience.

Q: Is tracking water loss difficult for water agencies?

A: It’s work, but I would say it’s not difficult. They have the data and it’s a matter of gathering the data and putting it into an audit format. There’s some work required, but since they already have the data it’s not extraordinarily difficult for them to do it. The validation step is something that isn’t as widespread, so there will be a learning curve with that. But I don’t think that will be very difficult either. Ultimately, it’s not very hard.

Q: How does the validation work, and why is that important?

A: Validation is basically looking at the data that’s in the audit itself to make sure it accurately reflects the utility. The methodology that’s being pursued is the American Water Works Association methodology. They basically give a scoring for each of the data fields. That is, how strong is that data itself? It looks at how many meters there are on the source putting water into the system, how often those meters are calibrated, and those factors produce a score to see how well it reflects the utility’s practices in the water system. It’s all intended to make sure the information is accurate.

Q: How often will water agencies be required to submit audits?

A: They ultimately will be submitting them annually through our website. The first submittal date is Oct. 1, 2017, and annually thereafter. The period they can audit is either the calendar year or the fiscal year. We did that so municipalities can use auditing techniques that suit them best to serve their needs for their fiscal purposes and planning purposes.

Q: What’s left to do to approve the regulations?

A: We have a process to go through. We’re in the midst of a 45-day public comment period now. Then we’ll have a public hearing on it, respond to all the comments, make changes as appropriate, and either recirculate it or take it before the California Water Commission for adoption. The water commission has to approve them and I’m hoping to have it in front of them by May.

Q: Will the public have access to the water loss reports?

A: Yes. We already have a website for water loss audits, where all the documents will be posted.

All of the agencies subject to these regulations have gone through at least one water loss audit already, because that’s required in their urban water management plans. Those are available on the website now. We’ve looked at that data and we’ve had experts look at it. And what they told us is that it’s very hard to pull any conclusions from this data, because it’s not validated.

Q: How will the data be used once the audits start piling up?

A: There’s going to be performance standards established that will require California water agencies to reduce their water losses. The State Water Resources Control Board will be setting those performance standards, but not until they have two years of validated data. The industry strongly pushed for that to make sure what comes forward as a result of this program is based in solid numbers.

I think you’ll see a required minimum validation score, meaning they want strong data. And there could be a “percent of water supplied” number put forward as the performance criteria for losses, too. The state board will have a public process to establish that. The industry will get to weigh in, and it will be discussed at length. That was the idea of the statute: Something will be imposed to control water losses.

Q: What’s the end game? Is it better water efficiency, more daylight on water losses?

A: The end game will be on several fronts. Certainly water efficiency will go up as a result of the program on the water supply side. I think the public will be better served, because water agencies will be more aware of their water losses and therefore be more efficient with the water resources they’re handling. It may not reduce their operating costs, but it could. It will certainly be more efficient in terms of their operations, which will benefit the consumer.

I think it will also reduce real losses, which could reduce infrastructure damage as a result of leaks down the road. And it’s going to be validated data, so you have an idea how good the data is. But you’ll also have an idea of how efficient they are being in terms of reducing their losses, which ultimately consumers are paying for.

To read the original article published by Water Deeply, click here.

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Babcock Labs Featured in ELAP Newsletter

Babcock Laboratories was featured in the State Board’s ELAP newsletter this month. The newsletter includes a section called, “Environmental Laboratory Corner,” in which our CEO, Allison Mackenzie, provided insight into ELTAC’s recent deliberations concerning Fields of Testing (FOTs) within the laboratory accreditation process. Ms. Mackenzie serves as a voting member of the Environmental Laboratory Technical Advisory Committee (ELTAC) for the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP), which is now overseen by the Division of Drinking Water of the State Water Resources Control Board. Babcock Laboratories is committed to providing its clients with data of known and documented quality, which is why we are so proud that our CEO is helping ELAP ensure that accredited laboratories across California are doing the same.

To view the ELAP newsletter, click here. To learn more about Ms. Mackenzie’s role on ELTAC, click here.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

InternationalWomensDay-portraitToday people around the globe are celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women. We at Babcock Labs are proud that our company strives for equal opportunity and gender equity. Women make up more than half of our workforce, including our management team. This is unique for a STEM company and something to be proud of, as women still remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce at large in the United States.

In addition to being an equal opportunity employer, we are employee owned, which means that our employees have stock in our company and the opportunity to help make decisions about our future. We also support our community in numerous ways, including participating in programs like SISTERS and GEMS which help girls pursue careers in STEM. What’s more, the work we do on a daily basis helps protect public health and the environment, which in turn protects our families and future generations.

We have a very talented team of women and men who work hard each and every day to make a difference. Today we thank our entire Babcock Team for helping us ensure that our company continues to promote diversity, equality, and opportunity for all!

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Giving a Dam: California’s Water Infrastructure Problem

Oroville Dam main spillway

Oroville Dam main spillway (Source: Mercury News)

Recent news about the Oroville Dam crisis has highlighted some of California’s more serious infrastructure problems. At 49 years old, the Oroville Dam is at the end of its designated lifespan, along with nearly 4,000 other dams across the country. But it’s not old age alone that’s causing California water problems, it’s also old ideas. For example, our current infrastructure was built to route stormwater away from us and to the ocean as fast as possible. Stormwater was seen as potentially hazardous waste, so much so, in fact, that it was illegal for Californians to capture rainwater for landscaping and groundwater recharge purposes up until 2013. The State’s 5-year drought coupled with the incredible winter storm events of 2017, however, are forcing California to rethink its narrative on stormwater and consider innovative, sustainable water sources.

Under California Prop. 1, the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014, the State Water Resources Control Board received $200 million for the Storm Water Grant Program. The Board’s Strategy to Optimize Resource Management of Storm Water unit (STORMS) recently published its 10-year vision and implementation strategy for stormwater capture, which includes 23 projects. Nine of these projects are already underway and incorporate the development of watershed management guidelines and tools, the removal of barriers to stormwater capture, and the generation of stormwater data systems. The hope is that these programs can be implemented quickly so that the State can gain a stronger foothold in its battle against the drought.

Improving California’s infrastructure includes making water-conscious choices. While there may be little we can do about our metropolitan concrete jungles, new development should be low-impact and opt for ground space and pervious materials that allow for slow runoff and groundwater recharge rather than impenetrable asphalt and concrete that route stormwater directly to the drains. Additionally, Californians must warm up to the idea of innovative, sustainable water sources, such as water reuse and recycling. The most challenging and contentious step, however, is for Californians to agree to make necessary investments in the State’s water infrastructure.

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A Sinking Feeling: Over-Pumping CA Groundwater

San Joaquin Valley Subsidence

San Joaquin Valley Subsidence (Source: JPL/NASA Report & Google Maps)

The immense importance of proper groundwater recharge was recently confirmed by NASA, who released data earlier this month showing that parts of California are quite literally sinking due to the over-pumping of groundwater. Among other effects, over-pumping groundwater aquifers can cause the soil to collapse and compact, causing the land to subside and, in the case of California’s San Joaquin Valley, jeopardizing water infrastructure that serves millions of people. “The sinking threatens to curtail as much as one-fifth of water deliveries through the vital California Aqueduct to San Joaquin Valley farms and millions of Southern California residents,” according to the Associated Press.

Source: Rancho California Water District (website)

Vail Lake (Source: Rancho California Water District website)

Another effect of over-pumping is poorer water quality. Some local water agencies are considering raising rates to buy imported water while it’s available again to allow for local water sources to recharge. One such agency is Rancho California Water District (RCWD), who can no longer draw from its alternative water source, Vail Lake, due to water quality issues. The dramatic lack of rainfall in the region threatened the local groundwater basin and forced RCWD to use Vail Lake in an effort to augment the local supply and keep rates low. Despite the recent storm events, the lake is reported to be at only one-quarter of its capacity and requires much more water in order for sediment to settle to the bottom. Buying imported water from the state water project is considerably more expensive than local water supply, but it allows time for both Vail Lake and the local groundwater basin to recharge.

While rate hikes are never ideal, recent massive storm events have lifted Northern California out of the drought and importing water from up north may indeed be the best option for still-parched Southern California as it works to recharge its local water sources.

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EPA UCMR4 Environmental Laboratory Testing

Babcock Laboratories, Inc. is in the process of becoming fully certified for UCMR4! We have been approved by the U.S. EPA to participate in Proficiency Testing (PT) and currently have PTs in house. After successful participation in the EPA’s PT studies for all UCMR4 methods, Babcock Labs will receive approval upon finalization of the rule.

Babcock Labs has received certification for each round of UCMR since the inception of the program. Our experience with the program and our expert staff make Babcock Labs an excellent resource for UCMR4 questions and testing services. We are here to help!

Contact a member of our Business Development team today:
Cathy Iijima, Director of Client Services (951-653-3351 ext. 235)
Nick Marz, Business Development Associate (951-653-3351 ext. 262)
Taylor Cariaga, Business Development Associate (951-653-3351 ext. 240)
Or, contact your Project Manager


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State Board Notice: Lead Testing in Schools

On January 17th, the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW) announced its new program which encourages California schools to work with their local water providers to sample for the presence of lead in their drinking water.

Lead in drinking water has received restored national attention since the Flint Water Crisis which came to light in 2016. Lead is toxic to humans and can cause physical and behavioral effects if consumed, which makes it particularly dangerous for children. Lead enters drinking water through the corrosion of service pipes that contain lead, especially when the water has high acidity or low mineral content. The DDW has noted that California is at a lower risk of lead contamination in drinking water compared to other states because of its more modern infrastructure, however, the DDW believes additional testing will help ensure that California is continuing to protect its most vulnerable populations.

Under this new program, if a K-12 school official requests lead testing its public water system is responsible for collecting water samples within three months of the request, having the samples analyzed by an ELAP-accredited laboratory, and reporting the results to the school within two business days of receiving the results, all free of charge. The water system is required to collect up to 5 samples at each school requesting assistance. The State said this program will stay in effect until November 1st, 2019. To view the sampling plan and protocols, visit the DDW’s Lead Sampling of Drinking Water in California Schools website.

Babcock Laboratories is both ELAP and NELAP accredited and has over 20 years of experience determining ultra-trace amounts of lead in drinking water using EPA method 200.8, which is the testing method required by the State Board for this program. In addition to lead, Babcock Laboratories offers a suite of heavy metal testing services for drinking water. If you are interested in our heavy metal testing services, including lead testing, please contact our Director of Client Services, Cathy Iijima.

As the DDW has noted, this new program will address potential safety issues and reassure our communities that our children and teachers are consuming clean and safe drinking water. We look forward to supporting public water systems as they continue to protect public health under this new program.

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Rain on the Parade: Drought Endures in Southern California

California’s unexpected winter storms replenished the Sierra snowpack and filled reservoirs, allowing more than 40% of the State to emerge from one of the worst droughts in its recorded history. While this news should be cause for celebration, recent data from the U.S. Drought Monitor rains on the parade. According to federal officials, vast areas of Southern and Central California remain locked in extreme drought conditions. For this reason, things still look rather precarious for Southern California, as the south relies heavily on neighboring resources for its water. So Cal’s neighbors may be hesitant to share their newly replenished resources—and rightfully so—given predictions that California may experience a drought resurgence.

For those of us in the environmental industry, this news also affects National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Industrial General Permit (IGP) holders. Under the IGP, the permit holder is required to collect and analyze stormwater samples from each discharge location for two Qualified Stormwater Events (QSEs) within the first half of each reporting year (July 1 to December 31), and two (2) QSEs within the second half of each reporting year (January 1st to June 30th). Many Dischargers took advantage of January’s massive storm events to fulfill their sampling requirements for the second half of the year. If you did not complete your sampling requirements this month, we encourage you to sample during the next QSE given the uncertainty of future rain events in Southern California.

As a reminder, the IGP has redefined a QSE to mean a precipitation event that produces discharge from any industrial drainage area proceeded by 48 hours with no discharge. In addition, QSE discharges can start the night before (within 12 hours of facility operational start time). The IGP also requires that all samples be collected within the first 4 hours of discharge. All Dischargers are required to submit and certify all reports electronically via the Storm Water Multiple Application and Report Tracking System (SMARTS). After receiving data from the lab, the Discharger has 30 days to submit all analytical results to SMARTS. Lastly, it is always a good idea to review your stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPP) to ensure that your organization stays in compliance with your region’s stormwater program.

If you have not completed the testing requirements for the second half of the reporting year, contact your Project Manager to order your stormwater kit and review your specific stormwater testing requirements in preparation for the next QSE. Click here to view information about Babcock Labs’ stormwater testing services, or contact your project manager to schedule sampling/testing services today!

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