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Introduction: Kesterson as an Example of a Broader Problem In 1982, scientists discovered that irrigation drainage water had con- taminated the ponds at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in California with toxic levels of selenium, a naturally occurring trace element (Presser and Ohlendorf, 1987~. Waterfowl were dying and suffering re- productive failures; reduced fish populations, algal blooms, and dwindling cattails all indicated a problem of serious proportions. The discovery of Kesterson's selenium contamination set in motion a chain of events that is still progressing today. Farmers, scientists, engineers, policymakers, and various special interest groups both from California and from around the nation have become involved in a long process of trying to understand and solve the problem. Countless meetings have been held, and dozens of studies have been produced. The incident garnered national attention and sparked public recognition that irrigation-induced water quality problems are affecting much of the West as well as other regions where irrigation is practiced. Scientists and policymakers involved in this search for answers face three distinctly different scales of activity. They must decide how to clean up the contamination at Kesterson NWR, how to prevent similar problems throughout the San Joaquin Valley where Kesterson is located (Figure 1.1), and how to address this generic type of problem in the West and elsewhere. This last question is perhaps the most troubling; although the contaminants of concern and the severity of impacts may vary, irrigation drainage is causing contamination problems at other national wildlife refuges and in 11
12 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS ,~ Waste ~ KESTERSON HWR ~ a ~ ~ 1 ~ ~BAKERSFIELD FIGURE 1.1 The San Joaquin Valley, site of Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge and focus of the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program. SOURCE: Courtesy of the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program. other natural habitats (Deason, 1989~. The phenomenon of irrigation- induced water quality contamination can be ignored no longer. Kesterson NWR has become a symbol of this type of water quality problem, but it is not an aberration. The U.S. Department of the Interior's National Irrigation Water Quality Program has surveyed a number of other refuges that receive irrigation drainage water and has identified at least
INTRODUCTION 13 ~-~_._. \,0.; ~ . ~- \ · Reconnaissance studies completed in FY 1987 ·~\.1 Reconnaissance studies under way, FY 1988 to FY 1989 O Detailed studies under way FY 1988 to FY 1989+ Ok These sites were also reconnaissance study sites FIGURE 1.2 Sites being studied for potential irrigation drainage problems lay the U.S. Department of the Interior, 1986 to 1990. SOURCE: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior. four other sites that may have reached unacceptable levels of contamination (Figure 1.2~. The Stillwater Wildlife Management area in Nevada (personal communication from R. Hoffman, U.S. Geological Survey, Carson City, Nev., 1989), the Salton Sea area in California (personal communication from J. Setmire, U.S. Geological Survey, San Diego, Calif., 1989), the Middle Green River basin area in Utah (Stephens et al., 1988), and the Kendrick Reclamation Project area in Wyoming (Peterson et al., 1988) have shown preliminary signs of contamination and are all undergoing in- depth study. More problem sites may be identified as other reconnaissance studies continue. Although the U.S. Department of the Interior does not believe the evidence points to an environmental problem of catastrophic
14 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS proportions, it does agree that some problems of significant magnitude do exist and should be addressed (Deason, 1989~. Also, the potential for problems on privately irrigated lands remains unexplored. The degradation at Kesterson NWR and throughout the San Joaquin Valley not only serves as a warning of the potential for irrigation-induced contamination, but it also offers insights about how to study and respond to such problems. This report is an attempt to highlight some of these lessons. This chapter introduces the setting and the participants involved in the search for solutions to the irrigation-induced water quality problems found in California's San Joaquin Valley. It begins by reviewing the role of water development in the West and then focuses on the San Joaquin Valley and the selenium contamination discovered there. Later chapters highlight the nature of good problem solving and the technical and institutional lessons to be drawn from the San Joaquin Valley experience. WESTERN U.S. AGRICULTURE Understanding the history of irrigation in the West can help explain today's irrigation-related problems, both the causes and why the solutions are so difficult. Agriculture in the western United States has long been inextricably tied to irrigation. Many cultures throughout history Native American, Mexican, and European have inhabited the arid West, each practicing some form of irrigated agriculture. Whether by capturing flash floods with simple check dams in desert arroyos or by building elaborate networks of impoundments and canals to serve thousands of acres of cropland, irrigation perturbs natural systems. It also leaves its imprint on social systems. Irrigation has had a profound impact in shaping western economies, social structures, laws, and politics. These antecedent events limit what can be done now to solve irrigation-induced problems. Western water law was shaped by the needs of mining and agriculture. Early precedents applied similarly to both ore and water: to obtain rights to a resource, the first claimant prevailed (appropriative rights). First, an informal body of water law evolved to serve the mining camps. As the West grew and codified its water rights system, the specifics were refined, and some states incorporated aspects of riparian water law from the East, but the basic philosophy remained. "Beneficial use" became the basis for an appropriator's water right. Custom and tradition dictated the quantity considered reasonable. A person could lose a water right if the water was not put to a beneficial use hence the admonition, "use it or lose it" (El-Ashry and Gibbons, 1986~. In the nineteenth century, the federal government allocated public lands freely or very cheaply to private ownership to stimulate western settlement. Much irrigable land in the West passed into private ownership
INTRODUCTION 15 under public land laws such as the Desert Land Act of 1877, reflecting the federal objective to have the West occupied and developed. When private capital and local public resources were unable to sustain the large- scale water development desired in some areas, the nation initiated a reclamation program in 1902 with the goal of remaking the deserts bloom." Policymakers hoped that inexpensive water would foster new communities of family farms in the 17 western states. The Reclamation Act of 1902 marked the beginning of many decades of federal involvement in building and subsidizing irrigation projects in the West. ~day, irrigation consumes the majority of the West's water. Including both public and private developments, irrigation accounts for about 90 percent of the water consumed in the West (U.S. Geological Survey, 1983~. In California, 83 percent of all consumptive water use is accounted for by agriculture (California Department of Water Resources, 1987~. The scale of irrigation has grown impressively in the United States: in 1890, the nation had about 4 million irrigated acres; by 1977, it had 60 million acres, with about 50 million acres located in the 17 western states. Irrigated farms contribute more than one-fourth of the nation's total value of crop produc- tion, even though they constitute only one-seventh of all agricultural lands (Frederick and Hanson, 1984~. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) provided water to more than 12 million acres in 1986, supplying about 25 percent of the West's irrigation water (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 1984~. (The USBR is responsible for only about one-fourth of the nation's irrigation projects, but it is involved in the largest developments.) Irrigation is essential to the West's agricultural economy, but water use for agriculture is not expected to grow significantly. Total irrigated area in the West has declined since 1979 (with the exception of 1982), whereas land used for other purposes (e.g., residential, commercial, and industrial) has increased (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 1984~. Urbanization and industrial development bring pressures to retire irrigated acreage, and this trend is likely to continue. The greatest irrigation-related threat to western agriculture is increas- ing salinity. Increased salinity is an unavoidable by-product of irrigation because all water carries dissolved salts, and as the water evaporates, the salts are left behind (see Chapter 2~. An estimated one-fourth, and pos- sibly up to one-third, of the irrigated lands in the United States suffer some damage from salinity. This damage includes reductions in yield, restrictions on choice of crops that can be grown, or need for increased management expertise (van Schilfgaarde and Rhoades, 1984~. Salinity af- fects nonagricultural users as well, such as households, water utilities, and industry. The Colorado River basin (including the Imperial and Coachella Val- leys of southern California that receive Colorado River water) faces the
16 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS The opening of the West was sparked in large part by the development of irrigation. When the Reclamation Act of 1902 was passed, the goal was to "make the deserts bloom" and encourage farmers to settle the vast, dry landscape. Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation provides water to more than 12 million acres, including 105,000 acres of land served by the Owyhee Dam in Oregon. CREDIT: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, J. D. Roder~ck. West's greatest salinity problems, followed by the Rio Grande basin of New Mexico and Texas and the Central Valley of California, including the San Joaquin Valley (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1974~. The Colorado River basin provides an example of the scale of the problem: agriculture there is estimated to have lost between $113 million and $122 million per year between 1976 and 1985 because of salinity (Lohman et al., 1988~. THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY The San Joaquin Valley lies in the southern half of California's great Central Valley and extends approximately 250 miles from the Tahachapi Mountains to the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. The valley averages about 50 miles in width, flanked on the east by the Sierra Nevada mountains and on the west by the low-lying Coast Range (Letey et al., 1986~. It is a region of fertile soils, but historically it suffered from seasonal water shortages and periodic flooding. The valley's extensive wetlands made it
INTRODUCTION 17 an early candidate for the development of irrigated agriculture. At first, farmers borrowed techniques used by miners to move water to their claims. As time went on, methods became more sophisticated and coordinated. Farmers irrigated by managing the water yielded by the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east and, later, by importing water from farther north. As is discussed later in this chapter, individuals grouped together in reclamation and irrigation districts, and plans for a major water delivery system were proposed as early as 1873 (California State Department of Public Works, 1932~. Even before the turn of the century, however, agricultural experts recognized that irrigated agriculture could be of only short duration if provisions were not made to dispose of the brackish drainage water. As E. W. Hilgard, an early soil scientist, geographer, and professor said of California in 1886: It is hardly necessary to go further into the details (of the problems occumng in India) to enforce the lesson and wanting they convey to our irrigating communities.... The evils now besetting (California's irrigation districts) are already becoming painfully apparent; and to expect them not to increase unless the proper remedies are applied is to hope that natural laws will be waived in favor of California. The natural conditions under which the irrigation canals of India have brought about the scourge, are exactly reproduced in the great valley of California; and what has happened in India will assuredly happen there also (Hilgard, 1886) Ibday, the San Joaquin Valley contains 4.7 million acres of irrigated farmland, the largest concentration of irrigated land in California (Cali- fornia Department of Water Resources, 1987~. It is still a fertile region that supplies the nation with a great variety of agricultural products. And Professor Hilgard's comments about salinity, its effects on crops, and the importance of appropriate management practices provide a foreshadowing of the irrigation and drainage problems now being faced (Letey et al., 1986~. The Natural History of the San ,Ionquin Valley The San Joaquin Valley has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot and dry; fall is a time of stable temperatures and low moisture levels. Winter temperatures are mild but not warm enough to grow crops. Winter can bring periods of dense fog and intense storms from the Pacific, but most of the precipitation falls as rain on the western slopes of the Coast Range before it can reach the valley floor. Winter rainfall rarely exceeds 10 in. on the west side of the valley, and the drier eastern slopes of the Coast Range generate little runoff and experience almost no snow. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains stores the equivalent of as much as 40 in. of water during the winter months and is more
18 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS The San Joaquin Valley in California contains 4.7 million acres of irrigated farmland and supplies the nation with a great variety of agricultural products. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Central Valley Project includes 102 miles of canal and irrigates an area 65 miles long and averaging 13 miles wide. CREDIT: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, J. C. Dahilig. important than direct precipitation to the basin's hydrologic budget. When temperatures rise in the spring, snowmelt runoff from the Sierra Nevada increases the flow of streams into the valley, generally providing dependable supplies of water well into the summer. Peak stream discharges occur in April, May, and June. The low-water period begins in August and extends through February. Heavy rains can cause major flood peaks beginning as early as November. The native ecological communities of the San Joaquin Valley reflect this blend of climate, terrain, soil, and hydrology. Broad belts of vegetation generally extend from north to south, reflecting gradients of precipitation. Species diversity and biomass increase away from the valley floor in response to precipitation and elevation. The dominant ground cover in central California before the Europeans
INTRODUCTION 19 arrived in the late eighteenth century consisted of perennial grasses, herbs, fortes, and shrubs. Deciduous trees grew in scattered locations where local conditions were favorable. Large wetland areas along the central floor of the San Joaquin Valley were seasonally or permanently flooded. The natural community types that predominated in the valley included savanna, riparian forest, prairie desert saltbush, spiny saltbush, marsh, lowland heath, and oak woodlands. These communities were home to a variety of native mammals, including pronghorn antelope, rule elk, mule deer, grey wolves, coyotes, and abundant small mammals, birds, and insects (Ogden, 1988~. Agricultural development required the removal of native flora and dis- placed the fauna. In addition, actions to control pests harmed many species directly and others indirectly by affecting their food sources. Although many wildlife species still reside in the valley, in general their populations have diminished. Wetland habitats in California's Central Valley have been re- duced greatly from historical levels of about 4 million acres to the present level of about 300,000 to 400,000 acres (SJVDP, 1987a). Thus the remain- ing wetlands, including evaporation ponds and other water storage facilities created for agriculture, are increasingly attractive to wildlife. There are 10 national wildlife refuges and 4 state wildlife management areas in California's Central Valley. These areas provide about one-third of the state's waterfowl habitat. For years these areas have been sustained by surplus irrigation water, irrigation return flow, and ground water. As California's demand for fresh water has grown, the quantity and quality of the water delivered to these wildlife habitats have diminished, especially during periods of lower than average rainfall. State and federal agencies have estimated that these areas need a water supply of more than 500,000 acre-feet annually to sustain them adequately; at present, average annual water deliveries total about 380,000 acre-feet (California Department of Water Resources, 1987~. Differences Between the East and West Sides of the San ,Ioaquin Valley The hydrology and agricultural economies of the east and west sides of the San Joaquin Valley are markedly different. Irrigation generally developed earlier (in the late 1800s) on the east side of the valley, where there was an abundance of water from the Sierra Nevada. Furthermore, ground water was available for irrigation at relatively shallow depths. The salt concentrations from both of these sources were low because parent rock on the east side is granitic. Where excessive irrigation water was applied, waterlogged soils became apparent by the turn of the century. Development of numerous large-capacity wells by the 1920s lowered water levels, however, and forestalled drainage problems.
20 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS Farmers on the east side historically have had smaller, family-run farms, and they have lived on their land. Most of the domestic water supply (including municipal and industrial supplies) on the east side historically has been supplied by ground water. Conjunctive use, a system combining surface water from a canal, the pumping of ground water, and induced ground water recharge, has been practiced recently on the east side to maintain relatively stable ground water levels. Farms on the west side historically have been larger and have been operated by managers who often do not live on the farms. The initial development of irrigation on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley depended primarily on ground water. Farmers commonly tap the deeper ground water (between about 400 and 2500 ft in depth) recharged from the mountains because shallow ground water often has high salinity. Also, large-scale overdrafting of the ground water has lowered the water table. Before water was imported from northern California, well capacity and water quality constrained many farmers on the valley's west side in their choice of crops and how much land they could irrigate. Also, the parent rock on the west side is of marine origin and contributes salts to the soils and ground water (Presser and Ohlendorf, 1987~. The cost of correcting these problems generally was prohibitive. When a new source of water became available through the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, ground water pumping essentially ceased because the imported water was of much better quality and was cheaper. Once ground water pumping stopped and imported water was available, another type of hydrologic imbalance developed. The importation of low- cost water led to a high level of use, and the level of the water tables in the region which had been overdrawn for decades rose. Drainage problems, predicted decades earlier, soon emerged, and efforts were started to provide a drainage canal (Dudek and Homer, 1981~. KESTERSON NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE Kesterson NWR is located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. At the time the selenium contamination was discovered there in 1982, the refuge was made up of 12 evaporation ponds collectively called Kesterson Reservoir with an average depth of 3 to 4 ft and a total water surface area of about 1200 acres when filled. The problems at Kesterson NWR evolved in part because of the refuge's convoluted history (Table 1.1~. Kesterson NWR was planned originally as a storage area to be used to control water flowing down the proposed San Luis Drain into the western part of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and ultimately to the San Francisco Bay (Ohlendorf, 1989~. Its use as a wildlife refuge was opportunistic. However, the drain was never
INTRODUCT ON 21 extended past Kesterson NWR for political and social reasons, and the reservoir came to serve two purposes. It was used as a large evaporation pond to dispose of agricultural drainage water, and it provided wildlife habitat. The ponds at Kesterson NWR were completed in 1971 at a cost of about $10 million. Between 1971 and 1978 all the water flowing into the Kesterson ponds was fresh; by 1981, the inflow was exclusively subsurface agricultural drainage water. The mineral content (including selenium) in the reservoir increased as water entered and evaporated (Letey et al., 1986~. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) first noticed problems at Kesterson NWR in 1982: large-mouth and striped bass, catfish, and carp had disappeared (Ohlendorf, 1984~. In the spring of 1983, eggs from water birds exhibited decreased hatchability and deformities of the embryos. The cause was determined to be elevated levels of selenium, a common, naturally occurring trace element, which was being carried into the reservoir in agricultural drainage water and concentrated through natural processes (Presser and Barnes, 1984~. The roots of this problem go back to the historical development of irrigation in California. Calls for large-scale irrigation, of course, go far back in the history of California's settlement (California State Department of Public Works, 1932~. When several years of drought struck in the early 1920s, California legislators proposed a massive water project consisting of dams, canals, and drains so that agriculture could prosper in spite of the vagaries of the natural water supply. The short-term water shortage was a greater concern than the long-term threat to the region's agriculture from salinity, even though the need for salt management and drainage was recognized. The Central Valley Project was first proposed in the 1930s. Originally, California had planned to build the project-an ambitious plan including dams, canals, drains, and other structures but during the De- pression the state could not raise bond monies and the federal government assumed responsibility for its construction. Management responsibility was assigned to the USBR. In 1943 the Westside Landowners Association (later to become the Westlands Water District) asked the USER to investigate the possibility of getting a more reliable water supply for the west side of the valley. A feasibility study was completed in 1956, and in response to these requests, Congress authorized construction of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project in 1960. This project was ultimately to deliver 1.2 million acre-feet of water each year to Westlands Water District. The plans included a drainage system discharging into the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and ultimately into San Francisco Bay. The building of the San Luis Drain was controversial from the be- ginning. In 1965, the California legislature had responded to growing
22 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS TABLE 1.1 A Chronology of Selected San Joaquin Valley Events, 1937 to 1989 Date Description 1937 1950 1960 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 Delta-Mendota Project is authorized by Congress. Delta-Mendota Service Area water deliveries begin. California releases plans for federal-state San Joaquin Valley Master Drain. Congress authorizes San Luis Unit, including the San Luis Drain, to carry irrigation waste water out of the Central Valley and discharge it into San Francisco Bay. Congress requires an agreement between the United States and California regarding a discharge point for the San Luis Drain. Water quality studies are also mandated. State abandons role in valley master drain. Water deliveries start in the San Luis Service Area and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) begins construction of San Luis Drain and Kesterson Reservoir. USBR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agree to operate Kesterson Reservoir as a waterfowl management area. USFWS expresses concern about the degradation of ground water by nitrates in the San Joaquin Valley and its subsequent effect on the San Joaquin River. Kesterson Reservoir is completed at a cost of $10 million. 1971-1978 Kesterson Reservoir inflow consists of fresh water. 1975 1975 1979 1981 Funding limitations and environmental concerns stop construction of the San Luis Drain north of Kesterson Reservoir. San Joaquin Valley Interagency Drainage Program (SJVIDP), a precursor to the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program, is established. Limited testing for trace elements is conducted, but tests for selenium are not included. SJ9IDP issues report recommending that no drain construction north of the reservoir occur until USBR has completed the final supplemental environmental impact statement for the San Luis Unit. Subsurface drainage water begins to flow into Kesterson. All water coming into Kesterson consists of irrigation drainage water. USBR imposes moratorium on additional farm drainage connections to San Luis Drain because of limited capacity at Kesterson Reservoir.
INTRODUCTION TABLE 1.1 (continued) Date Description 1982 1983 l9g4 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 First observations of biological changes in reservoir ponds (e.g., dying cattails, algal blooms, declining use by waterfowl). USliWS biologists find high levels of selenium in mosquito fish. Preliminary toxicity data are provided to USBR. USBR questions the data and USTiWS asks the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for help. USFWS biologists conclude that dead and deformed bird embryos resulted from high selenium levels. USBR officials dispute findings. The California Water Resources Control Board is informed. The California Department of Public Health issues notice limiting waterfowl consumption from the Kesterson area, and USTiWS closes Kesterson ponds to public access. A state-federal team, the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program (SJVDP) is created to develop alternative solutions to San Joaquin Valley salinity problems. A Kesterson area duck club owner files suit against USBR and state agencies for damage to his property. USFWS begins intensive hazing (harassing the birds so they move on to other habitat) to prevent migratory waterfowl from being exposed to selenium at Kesterson. State Water Resources Control Board hearings begin. U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announces plans to close Kesterson Reservoir and San Luis Drain and to terminate irrigation deliveries to 42,000 acres in Westlands Water District. Later, a compromise allows additional time to end irrigation drainage. Drainage flows to Kesterson are stopped. USBR proposes a phased cleanup approach. State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) orders onsite disposal of Kesterson waste, rejecting an alternative federal proposal. An onsite disposal facility is to be completed by August 1988. DOI petitions SWRCB for another hearing on Kesterson cleanup, presents evidence that onsite disposal will create new problems, and asks for time to conduct further research. Onsite approach is dropped, and DOI is ordered to fill and grade Kesterson. Hazing continues where necessary. SJVDP continues to develop alternative solutions to deal with irrigation-induced water quality problems in the San Joaquin Valley. Work to fill and grade the ponds at Kesterson is completed. Biological and ground water monitoring continues. The USBR submits its plan for the future maintenance of the Kesterson area to the SWRCB, projecting a continued need for management, monitoring, and some experimentation. SOURCE: Developed from Letey et al., 1986. 23
24 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS The current awareness of irr~gation-induced water quality problems arose when scientists discovered that irrigation drainage water was leading to reproductive failures and deaths in some species of aquatic organisms and waterfowl at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. The ponds at Kesterson were built to serve as temporary storage areas for drainage water but the reservoir came to serve as a large evaporation pond. Since the discovery of toxic effects caused by increased concentrations of the trace element selenium, the water in these ponds has been drained and the low-lying areas filled. CREDIT: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, G. Zahm. public concern about potential pollution in the San Francisco Bay and had requested a comprehensive study of the estuary. In 1967, citing budget constraints, the state decided not to participate in the drainage project. Nevertheless, USER decided to proceed and began building the San Luis Drain in 1968. By 1970, proceeding under the commonly accepted assumption that drainage waters were suitable for waterfowl and other wildlife, the USER had signed a management agreement with the USFWS to manage the wetland habitat that would be created. The wildlife refuge aspects of the project, however, were incidental to the main function of regulating the drain-water flow. As planned, the San Luis Drain was to conduct drainage water to the ponds at Kesterson NWR and then on to the
INTRODUCTION 25 San Francisco Bay. The first phase of construction, however, included only the southern half of the drain. Until the drain was completed, the ponds at Kesterson NWR were to serve as a temporary holding area to dispose of the collected agricultural drainage by evaporation and percolation. The decision to build the drain from the valley toward the outlet, rather than from the outlet toward the lands to be drained, was a political decision that later proved to be a strategic mistake. The decision was based on the assumption that authorization and funding to complete the drain would eventually be available, an assumption that proved wrong in the face of changing economic, political, and environmental attitudes. Meanwhile, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 had be- come law, and the USBR released the required environmental impact statement for the drain in 1972. Although the statement supported the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta outlet, law suits were filed, and a task force was established to review the San Luis Unit. Meanwhile, subsurface drains continued to be installed on farms in the region, and by 1981 the drainage water volume reaching the ponds at Kesterson NWR had increased to approximately 7000 acre-feet/yr the upper limit that could be evaporated or otherwise disposed of at Kesterson. In 1986, the USER informed water users in the area served by the drain that it was placing a moratorium on the connection of any additional on-farm drains to the district's collector system until Kesterson NWR was enlarged or the drain was completed to the delta. By 1987, the issue was moot. Plans were made to keep wildlife from using the area while an effective method of cleanup for the contaminated soils was sought. After much deliberation and debate, in 1988 the U.S. Department of the Interior was ordered to fill and grade Kesterson, a task that was completed in early 1989. The total cleanup costs are estimated to be more than $47 million (personal communication from J. P. Deason, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., 1989~. For at least 5 more years, biological and ground water monitoring will continue, as will some experimentation and management at the site, bringing continued additional costs that are projected to be about $3.5 million per year. STATE AND FEDERAL INVOLVEMENT The contamination at Kesterson NWR has influenced events far be- yond the confines of the San Joaquin Valley. Local residents, special interest groups, state and federal agencies, and elected officials have all been involved. These diverse groups often have conflicting interests. Some want action quickly, whereas others seek long-term solutions. Refuge man- agers want to protect wildlife now and provide safe habitats for the long term; farmers want to continue to farm and want drainage for waterlogged
26 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS fields. Hunters and wildlife advocates want an assured supply of water to support wildlife populations. Political leaders worry about the issue of who pays and who benefits. The three federal agencies most active in resolving the San Joaquin Valley drainage issue are in the U.S. Department of the Interior: the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the USFWS, and the USBR. The USGS is an earth science information and research organization, and its role is to collect data to understand the geology and hydrology of the valley. The USGS first identified the high concentrations of selenium that had accumulated in the ponds at Kesterson NWR (Presser and Barnes, 1984~. Their research on selenium and other trace elements has provided an important underpinning for the search for options to resolve the valley's drainage problems. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the federal government's lead agency for conserving and managing the nation's fish and wildlife resources. Its mandate ranges from managing almost 90 million acres of land in the National Wildlife Refuge System, to conserving plant and animal species threatened with extinction, to advising other federal agencies on how to manage wildlife on their lands, to enforcing federal wildlife laws and international wildlife treaties. It has a long-standing focus on game species. The USFWS's mandated responsibility in the Kesterson situation is to protect the fish and wildlife, a responsibility that has at times brought the USFWS into conflict with other interests in the San Joaquin Valley. The other major federal participant in the San Joaquin Valley is the USBR. The USBR, as mentioned earlier, was established under the Reclamation Act of 1902 to provide irrigation and drainage to reclaim the desert lands of the West. In recent years, with much of its development mission fulfilled, the USBR has increasingly come under criticism for being slow to adapt to the public's increasing environmental awareness and demands for improved management and nonstructural solutions to water problems. A historical conflict exists between the USFWS and the USBR because of their differing missions. The USBR has had the political influence to prevail in most disputes. This history of conflict has made the multiagency program of the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program, discussed later in this chapter, particularly difficult to manage. Curiously, neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been active in the program, despite the obvious relevance of their missions. The main California state agencies involved with the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program are the Department of Water Resources (DOOR) and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG). The DWR is a natural resource management agency with responsibilities for activities relating to water quantity and distribution. The DFG is the state counterpart
INTRODUCTION 27 of the USFWS, with wildlife management and state-level enforcement responsibilities. Local agencies also have key roles. The county health departments of Fresno and Merced Counties have jurisdiction over individual domestic wells, well drilling permits for all wells (including monitoring wells), and public nuisances, such as odors. Government agencies in both Fresno County (where Westlands Water District and the primary drainage problem area are located) and Merced County (where Kesterson NWR is located) have been active participants. Another important state agency is the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which is responsible for water quality regulation. The Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley region, is a branch of the SWRCB with its own board and staff in Sacramento and Fresno. The regional board has substantial authority to protect the quality of surface water and ground water in the Central Valley. It issues waste discharge permits, requires monitoring programs at many sites, and is involved with numerous site-specific cleanups of soil and ground water contamination. It implements, at a regional level, numerous state regulatory programs. (These programs and related federal legislation are described in Chapter 3.) The Department of Water Resources has not played a major role in the Kesterson NW1R experience because the reservoir did not receive drainage from any state projects. The DWR is, however, a participant in drainage problems in state water service areas, such as in Kern and Glare Counties. The DWR has conducted drainage research, including the construction of a pilot plant for treating drainage water, and has monitored the quality of subsurface drainage water in the San Joaquin Valley. It routinely monitors surface water and ground water in many parts of California, and it serves as a repository for information on water distribution and quality in the state. THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY DRAINAGE PROGRAM The San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program (SJVDP) was established in mid-1984 as a cooperative program to unite the efforts of the primary state and federal agencies involved in solving the valley's irrigation-related problems. (As a regulatory agency, SWRCB does not participate.) The pro- gram is scheduled to complete its tasks and go out of existence in October 1990. The purposes of the program are to study the problems associated with irrigation drainage on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and to recommend immediate and long-term management alternatives to achieve an equitable balance between irrigated agriculture and its associated envi- ronmental impacts. The SJVDP has defined four primary objectives that reflect the competing missions of the agencies involved (SJVDP, 1987a):
28 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS · Minimize potential health risks that may be associated with agri cultural drainage water. · Protect existing and future reasonable and beneficial uses of surface and ground waters. Sustain productivity of existing farmlands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Protect and enhance fish and wildlife resources. The organization of the SJVDP consists of six main elements and several related independent programs (Figure 1.3~. Staff for the intera- gency study team are drawn from the participating agencies. Of the six main elements, the Intergovernmental Coordination Team is composed of policy-level appointees of the secretary of the interior and the governor of California. This group provides broad guidance on program objectives, makes major policy decisions, and reviews overall progress. In this role, it has not participated in the program's day-to-day activities. The Policy and Management Committee (PMC), in contrast, plays an active role in the SJVDP process and has been closely involved in resolving the valley's drainage-related problems. The PMC provides specific guidance on program direction and priorities, allocates funds and personnel, and acts on recommendations from the Interagency Study Team and advisory groups. In effect, the PMC serves as the SJVDP's board of directors. The PMC is made up of three federal agency regional or district directors and two directors of California state departments. State and federal regulatory agencies (including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) declined representation on the PMC to eliminate any potential condicts of interest. The Interagency Study Team is a task force responsible for gathering and analyzing technical data and ultimately for formulating and evaluating alternate plans for managing the valley's drainage-related problems. This group is headed by a program manager who is responsible to the chairman of the PMC. Support is provided by a deputy program manager, agency representatives, and various scientific and support staff. The Citizens' Advisory Committee was established in 1987 by the California DWR to facilitate public participation in the SJVDP's problem- solving endeavor. The committee consists of 14 people representing various affected organizations and geographical regions. The Citizens' Advisory Committee has taken on the task of helping the SJVDP implement its public participation plan, and it provides comments on draft SJVDP documents. The Interagency Technical Advisory Committee consists of outside scientists who provide technical advice to the SJVDP. Unlike the PMC, this body includes representatives of regulatory agencies as well as the California university system. Seven technical subcommittees provide direct
INTRODUCTION National Research Council Committee on Irrigation-lnduced Water Quality Problems Related Programs | Selenium in l | California Program t Associated state regulatory programs U.C. Salinity/ L-1 I Drainage Task Force I ~ | Kesterson Program U.S. Department of the / Interior Irrigation Water Quality Program Intergovernmental Coordination Team U.S. Department of the Interior California Environmental Affairs Agency California Resources Agency Policy and Management Committee California Department of Water Resources California Department of Fish and Game U.S. Bureau of Reclamation U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Geological Survey Interagency Study Team I Program Manager I Deputy Program Manager . Agency Representatives Staff FIGURE 1.3 San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program organization chart. SOURCE: SJVDP, 1987b. 29 Citizens' Advisory Committee Interagency Technical Advisory Committee support on data management, estuary and ocean biology, geochemistry, on- farm management, public health, drainage water treatment and disposal, and valley biology. An ad hoc working group also has been established to deal with quality assurance and quality control issues. Finally, this committee, the Committee on Irrigation-Induced Water Quality Problems, serves as a source of scientific guidance for the SJVDP. (See Appendix A for biographical sketches of committee members.) The involvement of the National Research Council (NRC) provides a national
30 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS perspective on the problems in the San Joaquin Valley and gives access to a broad range of scientific expertise. A number of subcommittees back up the NRC committee, providing specialized assistance when needed to address areas such as data man- agement, economics and policy, systems analysis, public health, quality assurance and quality control, and treatment technologies. These sub- committees were most active in the early stages of the SJVDP, although the Subcommittee on Economics, Policy, and Systems Analysis and the Subcommittee on Quality Assurance and Quality Control have remained particularly active. The NRC's participation was requested and funded by the state of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior beginning in early 1985 and is scheduled to end in March 1990. The structure of the SJVDP, with these many layers of advisors and participants, provides a great breadth of expertise and interests in the plan- ning process and is an example of the type of interagency coordination necessary to deal with complex environmental problems. It also, however, makes the SJVDP cumbersome and, given the passion inherent in water politics in California, often controversial. Along with their assigned respon- sibilities for research and planning, the staff of the SJVDP have been put in the unenviable position of intermediary among many powerful interests. It can be quite challenging to balance the demands of science with the needs of politics. As an example, it has been extremely difficult for the SJVDP to assess the full range of options available to respond to the irrigation-related problems when the program staff has been instructed to address only cer- tain in-valley solutions. This boundary on the SJVDP's activities limits the potential effectiveness of the planning process and imposes a short-sighted view of the causes and consequences of irrigation-induced water quality problems. THE NATIONAL IRRIGATION WATER QUALITY PROGRAM As mentioned earlier, the events at Kesterson NWR alerted the nation to the potential for irrigation-induced water quality problems. One response to this new awareness was the SJVDP. In late 1985, however, a further response was initiated when the U.S. Department of the Interior created the National Irrigation Water Quality Program (NIWQP). This program committed the department to a systematic review of other areas in the West where such problems might arise, including irrigation and drainage facilities, national wildlife refuges, and other sites managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior where migratory birds or endangered species receive irrigation water. The National Irrigation Water Quality Program seeks to identify and address other potential problem sites through a five-step process (Figure
INTRODUCTION 31 Site Identification Reconnaissance Detailed Studies Planning Remediation Investigations Kes erson Reservoir, CA 1 1 1 San Joaquin Valley, CA 1 1 Salton Sea, CA Tulare Lake, CA (Detailed studies to Stillwater NWR, NV be completed at Middle Green River, UT end of 1990) Kendrick Project, WY I . I Lower Colorado River, AZ/CA Sun River' MT (Long-term Milk River, MT monitoring) Laguna Atascosa, TX Upper Sacramento River, CA Klamath Basin, CA/OR Gunnison River, CO (Reconnaissance Pine River, CO investigations to be Middle Arkansas, CO/KS completed at end of American Falls Reservoir, ID 1989) Bosque del Apache NWR, NM Malheur NWR, OR Angostura Unit, SD Belle Fourche Project, SD Riverton Unit, WY (Planning to be com pleted by end of 1 990) FIGURE 1.4 The National Imgation Water Quality Program's five-step process. SOURCE: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior. 1.4~. Step 1, site identification, includes an ongoing examination of existing information to determine which sites are most likely to have irrigation- induced contamination problems. To date, a comprehensive survey of about 600 irrigation projects and major wildlife areas is nearing completion, and 22 sites in 13 states have been identified as having a high potential for such problems. Potential problem sites identified from this step progress to step 2, reconnaissance investigations. These investigations include field sampling studies to obtain basic data on potentially toxic elements in the water, sediment, plants, fish, and waterfowl. Reconnaissance investigations have been completed at 11 of the original 22 sites. Sites showing significant signs of contamination problems progress to step 3, detailed studies. These more in-depth field investigations gather data and interpret information necessary to identify the sources of the problems and evaluate remediation alternatives. Of the 11 sites for which reconnaissance investigations have been completed as of spring 1989, 7 were determined to have problems warranting continued study. Two detailed studies are complete; five detailed studies are under way and are expected
32 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS The Belle Fourche Project, South Dakota, serves more than 57,000 acres of farmland. This site underwent a reconnaissance-level investigation under the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Imgation Water Quality Program. No significant problems were identified, but the site will be monitored over the long term to ensure that fish and wildlife are protected from possible imgation-related problems. CREDIT: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, L. C. Axthelm. to be complete by the end of 1990. The Committee on Irrigation-Induced Water Quality Problems has been involved in oversight activities relating to the NIWQP. The committee has reviewed draft work plans for various reconnaissance and detailed studies, participated in mid-course meetings with the field staff, and reviewed draft reports. No sites identified through the NIWQP process have progressed to the final steps: step 4, planning, and step 5, remediation. However, looking comprehensively at the U.S. Department of the Interior's activities related to irrigation-induced contamination, two sites are in these final stages. Step 4, planning, has been completed at one site, Kesterson NWR, and is under way at another via the SJVDP. The Kesterson site is the only site currently undergoing remediation. Funding for the NIWQP's activities thus far Cable 1.2) has been provided cooperatively in the budgets of the USER, USGS, USFWS, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Also, the Bureau of Land Management has provided some funding in the past. Funding for the Kesterson NWR
INTRODUCTION TABLE 1.2 Appropriated Funds, National Irrigation Water Quality Program (in millions of dollars) Fiscal Year 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 (est.) Activity Westwide investigations Kesterson cleanup San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program Total 1.0 0.9 3.6 4.2 2.8 0.5 3.7 9.6 18.4 10.9 3.7 7.5 9.6 7.9 11.2 13.0 8.0 14.3 18.4 33.2 28.1 6.5 SOURCE: U.S. Department of the Interior. 33 cleanup and the SJVDP is provided in the USER budget. The organization of the NIWQP shows interagency cooperation and outside input (Figure 1.5~. The field teams conducting research at the reconnaissance and detailed studies sites are generally composed of representatives of the different federal funding agencies, as well as some state and local agencies. As the program continues in operation and as more sites enter the planning and remediation stages, the USER expects to have an increasingly important role. The NIWQP does not have a set end date, and discussions regarding its continued importance for site identification and long-term monitoring will ultimately need to be addressed. FUTURE IRRIGATION AND DRAINAGE ISSUES It would be a serious mistake to view the damage caused by selenium at Kesterson NWR as an isolated incident. Other sites have already been identified that show potential contamination problems and warrant more extensive research, and the search for similar problems is continuing (Dea- son, 19894. Although this report, and the U.S. Department of the Interior's ongoing efforts, focus on problems that originate from public projects, it should be remembered that the same potential for problems exists for private irrigation projects as well. Similarly, although this report focuses on naturally occurring trace elements, the potential for problems related to manufactured contaminants should also be given serious attention. What happened at Kesterson NWR provides a clear illustration of the long-known fact that irrigation projects without adequate outlets for drainage create unacceptable levels of salinity. The unexpected part of
34 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS Secretary of the Interior U.S. Department of the Interior Policy Team i' Administrative Oversight Irrigation Drainage Task Group (including other federal agencies) Study Teams · Reconnaissance ~ Detailed / U.S. Department of the Interior Policy Advisory Committee Congress Governors and State Agencies National Irrigation Water Quality Program Manager / . . 1 · Kesterson · SJVDP ~ \ \ Public Information Officer/Media National Research Council Committee on Irrigation-l educed Water Quality Problems FIGURE 1.5 Participants in the National Irrigation Water Quality Program. SOURCE: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior. the scenario was that given the right soils and geology and a setting where water accumulates in holding ponds or reservoirs drainage water can contain trace elements that can accumulate to toxic levels and cause serious harm to the biota. This is a type of problem that the nation must be better prepared to address.
INTRODUCTION 35 REFERENCES California Department of Water Resources. 1987. California Water Looking to the Future. Bulletin 160-87. California State Department of Public Works, Division of Water Resources. 1932. Bulletin of the Great Central Valley Project of the State Water Plan of California. California State Printing Office, Sacramento, California. Deason, J. P. 1989. Irrigation-induced contamination: How real a problem? Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering 115, 9-20. Dudek, D. J., and G. L. Homer. 1981. Integrated Physical-Economic Resource Analysis: A Case Study of the San Joaquin Valley. Final Report to the Environmental Protection Agency. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Robert Kerr Environmental Research Laboratory, Ada, Oklahoma. El-Ash~, M. I, and D. C. Gibbons. 1986. Doubled Waters: New Policies for Managing ~ 7 7 = ~ Water in the American West. Study 6. World Resources lnst~tute, Washington, 1 October. Frederick, K. D., and J. C. Hanson. 1984. Water for Western Agriculture. Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C. Hilgard, E. W. 1886. Irrigation and Alkali in India. College of Agriculture, University of California, Report to the President of the University, Bulletin No. 86. California State Printing Office, Sacramento, California, pp. 34-35. T Rev. J.. C. Rc~berts. M. Penberth. and C. Vasek. 1986. An Agricultural Dilemma: _ _ ~ ~ _ _ 7 _ _ _ Drainage Water and Toxics Disposal in the San Joaquin Valley. Special Publication 3319. Agricultural Experiment Station. University of California, Riverside. Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Lohman, L. C., J. G. Milliken, W. S. Dorn, and K. E. Decoy. 1988. Estimating Economic Im- pacts of Salinity of the Colorado River. Prepared for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Water Quality Office, Denver, Colorado. Ogden, G. R. 1988. Agricultural Land Use and wildlife in the San Joaquin Valley, 1769- 1930: An Overview. SOLO Heritage Research, Report prepared for the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program, 2800 Cottage Way, Rm. W-2143, Sacramento, California. Ohlendorf, H. M. 1984. The biologic system. Pp. 8-15 in U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Ecological Analysis. Proceedings of a research meeting on toxicity problems at Kesterson Reservoir, California. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Mid-Pacific Region, Sacramento, California. Ohlendorf, H. M. 1989. Bioaccumulation and effects of selenium in wildlife, 1989. Pp. 133-177 in Selenium in Agriculture and the Environment. L. NU Jacobs, ed. SSSA Special Publication No. 23. American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Madison, Wisconsin. Peterson, D. A., W. E. Jones, and A. G. Morton. 1988. Reconnaissance Investigation of Water Quality, Bottom Sediment, and Biota Associated with Irrigation Drainage in the Kendrick Reclamation Project Area, Wyoming, 1986-87. U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigations Report 88-401. U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado. Presser, T. S., and I. Barnes. 1984. Selenium Concentration in the Waters Tributary to and in the Vicinity of the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, Fresno and Merced Counties, California. U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigations Report 84-4122. U.S. Geological Survey, Federal Center, Denver, Colorado. Presser, T., and H. M. Ohlendorf. 1987. Biogeochemical cycling of selenium in the San Joaquin Valley, California, USA. Environmental Management 11, 805-821. San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program (SJVDP). 1987a. Developing Options: An Overview of Efforts to Solve Agricultural Drainage and Drainage-Related Problems in the San Joaquin Valley. San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program, 2800 Cottage Way, Rm. W-2143, Sacramento, California. San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program (SJVDP). 1987b. Prospectus. San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program, 2800 Cottage Way, Rm. W-2143, Sacramento, California. Stephens, D. W., B. Waddell, and J. Miller. 1988. Reconnaissance Investigation of Water Quality, Bottom Sediment, and Biota Associated with Irrigation Drainage in the Middle Green River Basin, Utah, 1986-87. U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigations Report 88-401. U.S. Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado. - ~ ~ ~-- ~
36 IRRIGATION-INDUCED WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 1984. Water, Land, and Related Data. Summary Statistics. Vol. 1. USBR, Washington, D.C., p. 6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1974. Evaluation of Salinity Created by Irrigation Return Flows. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., p. 36. U.S. Geological Survey. 1983. National Water Summary. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. van Schilfgaarde, J., and J. D. Rhoades. 1984. Coping with salinity. Pp. 157-179 in Water Scarcity: Impacts on Western Agriculture. E. A. Engelbert and A. F. Schearing, eds. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.