REEDLEY – Staff from the wastewater division of the public works department updated Reedley City Council on how the city is addressing nitrates and salts in the local water supply.
At the council meeting on Sept. 12, Wastewater System Supervisor Martha Cardoso and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator II Erika Barba presented the steps their division has taken to meet state requirements that are geared toward improving water quality and safety. Cardoso said they wanted to provide the council with an overview of their progress and see if council members had any recommendations for them moving forward.
“As (wastewater) operators, we are stewards of the environment,” Cardoso said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that we deliver safe and healthy water to the community and the citizens of Reedley by making sure that (water) is processed correctly.”
In 2006, the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board established an initiative to study and fix the high levels of nitrates and salts in California’s drinking water supply. That initiative, known as the Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long-Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS), has since created control programs that local jurisdictions must follow to be in compliance with state law.
Cardoso explained CV-SALTS as “a collaborative initiative among businesses, government and community organizations to address the nitrate and salt accumulation affecting water supplies.” Since its creation, CV-SALTS has studied water quality challenges, created salinity and nitrate control plans and made policy recommendations to the regional and state water boards.
Barba said nitrates and salts in drinking water is a concern for the state because they impair groundwater quality, affect water in drinking wells and pose health risks for some groups. The Central Valley is particularly impacted by these elements because of drought conditions and agricultural activity.
According to CV-SALTS, high levels of nitrate in drinking water can impact the oxygen-carrying ability of red blood cells in the body and is especially dangerous to infants and pregnant women. High levels of salinity can harm water quality, reduce crop production and alter ecological functions and habitats.
The goals for the nitrate and salinity control programs are to “provide safe, clean water supplies to the community, reduce the nitrate and salt impacts in the water supplies and restore the groundwater quality where reasonable,” Cardoso said.
The control programs created to reduce these impacts provide two pathways for local jurisdictions to choose between — one where they can join a management zone, or coalition, that they pay into yearly and work with other jurisdictions to ensure residents have safe drinking water, and one where they can work on their own to reduce the levels of nitrates and salts in their water.
Cardoso said they chose to take the path less traveled and not join a coalition because of the high costs associated with it and because, based on the current nitrate and salt levels in their water, they feel confident that they can meet state thresholds on their own.
“We feel that we can use those funds locally and possibly give better treatment to our personal wastewater, and deliver quality water and not impact our groundwater,” Cardoso said.
As part of the control programs, the city has to gather data and submit their management plans to the state for approval. Cardoso said they first submitted their plans in November 2022 and the state told them that they were on board with where the nitrate levels are currently, but they were somewhat concerned about the salinity levels.
Cardoso said they resubmitted their plans in January and the state responded with the same statements just last month, “so right now we’re in the waiting game.”
If the state does not approve Reedley’s plans, Cardoso said they might require the city to join a coalition instead of taking the independent path they’re on right now, but she is still hopeful and confident that the plans will be approved.
After listening to the presentation on the CV-SALTS programs and discussing the costs associated with the coalition, the city council members agreed with the decisions the wastewater division has made so far.
“I’m sold,” Mayor pro tem Matthew Tuttle said. “I think you did an excellent job. … I’m sold on going on our own.”
Cardoso said that as soon as they receive final notice from the state on the status of their management plans, they will come back to the council for updates and further direction.