The CV-Salts Plan, if Adopted in 2018, Will Require Replacement Water as Early as 2020 in the Central Valley to Address Nitrate in Groundwater

The CV-Salts Plan, if Adopted in 2018, Will Require Replacement Water as Early as 2020 in the Central Valley to Address Nitrate in Groundwater

In 2018, significant changes will be proposed by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board to the regulatory framework for salt and nitrate discharges in the Central Valley. It is common knowledge that the discharge limits set by the Regional Board in most cases are unattainable and unrealistic given the need to continue producing food in the Central Valley and the high, pre-existing background concentrations caused by historic discharges from a wide-variety of operations, including agricultural operations.  It is also clear that traditional regulatory practices have failed to reduce salt and nitrate contamination and that this could have dire consequences for groundwater users, including growers. To address these problems, the Regional Board’s CV-Salts initiative created the Central Valley Salt and Nitrate Management Plan.

The Salt and Nitrate Management Plan provides a framework for the Regional Board to achieve 3 goals:

  1.    Ensure safe drinking water supplies;
  2.    Balance salt and nitrate loadings; and
  3.    Create a management program to restore aquifers where reasonable and feasible.

The Salt and Nitrate Management Plan includes a Salinity Control Program and a Nitrate Control Program. These programs will be implemented differently to address the unique challenges posed by salinity and nitrate contamination. However, both will include two compliance pathways: an individual pathway and a group pathway. The individual pathways will consist of significantly tighter regulatory controls. However, under the group pathways, dischargers will be given significantly greater regulatory flexibility and time to achieve the three goals through collaboration and economies of scale. Not surprisingly, the Plan does not guarantee that group pathway participants will be insulated from Regional Board enforcement actions. What’s noteworthy, and making many dischargers nervous, is a mandate to address immediate drinking water needs if nitrate levels in nearby domestic wells or supply wells exceed the drinking water standard.  Although the timing is dependent upon a number of factors, including how quickly the Regional Board can issue its Notices to Comply once the Plan goes into effect, it appears that dischargers in high priority areas should anticipate that they may be asked to address any immediate drinking water needs in 2020. This may include providing bottled water, point-of-use treatment, installing new wells, or connecting households to existing or new community systems to impacted members of their community.  

The Regional Board anticipates voting on the Plan following a public hearing on May 31st and June 1st and issuing Notices to Comply to high priority dischargers in 2019.   For additional information regarding CV-Salts and the Salt and Nitrate Management Plan, please contact Nicole R. Gleason at or 916.492.5000.