ACWA-Sponsored Bill Introduced on Chromium-6 Compliance

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ACWA-sponsored legislation introduced today would provide a carefully monitored process for public water systems to work toward compliance with the state’s new drinking water standard for chromium-6.

California is the first state in the nation to adopt a drinking water standard for chromium-6. Public water systems are committed to meeting the standard, but the timeline provided for compliance does not recognize the complex steps water systems must take to achieve the standard. The steps involved – from designing appropriate treatment systems to securing financing to building and testing new treatment facilities – can take up to five years or more and cost millions of dollars.

SB 385 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) would address the challenge by authorizing the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to grant a time-limited variance to public water systems that meet strict conditions and demonstrate they are taking needed steps to comply with the standard by the earliest feasible date. The variance would not exempt any water systems from compliance or delay steps a water system must take to achieve compliance. The SWRCB oversees the state’s water quality and is responsible for enforcing the chromium-6 standard.

“For California’s public water systems, delivering water that meets or surpasses all state and federal drinking water standards is job one,” ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn said. “Unfortunately, some water systems will be deemed out of compliance with the new chromium-6 standard in 2015 even though it was not feasible for them to install appropriate treatment facilities to comply within the very short timeline provided.

“SB 385 does not seek to weaken the chromium-6 standard or delay its implementation. It simply creates a path for water systems to work toward compliance without being deemed in violation as long as strict safeguards are met. This is critical to ensuring that ratepayer funds are spent on needed treatment systems and not on potential enforcement actions and litigation,” Quinn said.

California’s drinking water standard for chromium-6 took effect on July 1, 2014. The first of its kind in the nation, California’s standard established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for chromium-6 in drinking water. Chromium-6 is a mineral that can occur naturally in the environment or be introduced from industrial activities such as corrosion control or metal plating.

For some public water systems, construction of extensive new treatment facilities is needed to comply with the chromium-6 MCL. The regulation establishing the standard required public water systems to begin monitoring for chromium-6 by Jan. 1, 2015, just six months after the regulation went into effect. Many affected water systems will be deemed in violation of the new standard in 2015 even though it was not feasible to install appropriate treatment systems to comply with the MCL within the time period provided. In some cases, land may need to be acquired, water rates may need to be raised, and financing may need to be secured before construction of facilities can even begin.

SB 385 would provide a time-limited process for a water system to work toward compliance without being deemed in violation as long as strict safeguards are met. This is critical if water systems are to obtain lower-cost financing and ensure that ratepayer funds are spent on needed treatment systems and not enforcement-related actions and litigation.

A fact sheet and FAQ on SB 385 are available at www.acwa.com.

The bill’s author, Sen. Hueso, added: “This bill will ensure that water systems can take the needed steps to meet the chromium-6 standard. SB 385 recognizes the complex steps that must be taken and achieves transparency and accountability for water systems to be in compliance. I will continue to push for water systems to work towards achieving the standard in a timely manner.”

Four legislators already have signed on as co-authors of the bill. Principal co-authors include Assembly Members Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) and Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), and co-authors include Sens. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County).

Safeguards Provided in the Bill

SB 385 provides safeguards to ensure that a water system granted a variance is taking the right steps to achieve compliance by the earliest possible date. Those safeguards include:

  • Required Compliance Plan: A water system must submit a compliance plan to the SWRCB.
  • Milestone Dates:  The plan must demonstrate the actions the water system is taking and will take and the milestone dates for those actions.
  • Earliest Feasible Date/Time Limit:  The plan must demonstrate compliance by the earliest feasible date, which cannot exceed five years from the date on which compliance otherwise would be required.
  • Funding Plan:  The plan must include the water system’s best estimate of the funding required and the actions the water system will take to secure the funding.
  • SWRCB Action: The SWRCB must act affirmatively to either approve or deny the variance. 
  • Notice to Customers:  The water system must provide notice to its customers at least twice per year summarizing the actions it is taking to comply with the standard and including information on alternative sources of drinking water.
  • Annual Report Review:  Following approval of the variance, the water system must update the SWRCB annually in a written report on the status of the actions in the approved compliance plan. The report must be approved by the SWRCB. If the SWRCB disapproves the report, the variance will no longer apply if the water system fails to submit a revised plan or report within 60 days or submits a revised plan or report that is subsequently disapproved.
  • Bill Sunset:  The variance authorization will sunset automatically on Jan. 1, 2020.

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