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Friday, November 16 , 2018, 5:44 pm | Haze Smoke 62º


Santa Ynez Struggles with Severe New State Chromium Groundwater Standards

2,500-customer water district may be forced to build $25 million treatment facility to comply with regulations on naturally occurring mineral

Getting adequate water supplies to communities in the Santa Ynez Valley has become a tougher task with the ongoing drought and new state standards that forced a water district to stop using three of its groundwater wells.

The shutdown is significant, considering it cuts the available groundwater supply for the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District Improvement District No. 1 (ID No. 1) by about half — placing more stress on already strained supplies.

ID No. 1 serves more than 6,700 customers in Ballard, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians reservation, Solvang and the nearby unincorporated areas.

New California Department of Public Health regulations that took effect July 1 further limit the amount of Chromium-6 — an odorless and tasteless, naturally occurring metallic element found in rocks, ore, soil, plants, etc. — that can be present in drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies Chromium-6 as a toxic element that is likely to cause cancer when humans ingest large amounts.

Previous state standards required drinking water to contain no more than 50 parts per billion of chromium, but the state has reduced the threshold to no more than 10 parts per billion — an 80 percent decrease and one that’s 10 times the federal standard of 100 parts per billion.

Since ID No. 1 can no longer use three of its eight wells, the water district is scrambling to study its operations and options.

It may be forced to spend as much as $25 million on new treatment facilities, which could result in higher water rates or more restrictions on water use.

Complying with new drinking water standards could collectively cost California’s public water agencies as much as $616 million, according to information the ID No. 1 water provides to customers.

The district typically reduced chromium levels in drinking water by diluting it with surface water — a strategy it can’t use during drought, when customers are already being asked to reduce usage by 20 percent.

“At this time in the drought cycle, they’d be hitting up the upper (basin) really hard, but they can’t right now,” Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District general manager Bruce Wales said.

His district formed ID No. 1 in 1959 to be purveyor of water for valley residents, ranches and businesses.

Half the water ID No. 1 distributes is for agricultural use, with the other half for domestic and municipal use, Wales said, adding that local private mutual water companies were dealing with some of the same issues as ID No. 1.

He said erosion typically washes rock into the upland groundwater basin supplies, which is how chromium gets into the mix.

The water district provides water to approximately 2,498 municipal and industrial accounts and 110 agricultural accounts through approximately 95 miles of distribution and transmission lines, according to 2013 statistics from ID No. 1 general manager Chris Dahlstrom.

Some 27 percent of groundwater supplies are usually pumped from the upland basin. District supplies also come from Santa Ynez River underflow, State Water Project entitlements and Lake Cachuma.

In a letter to the state before the standard was enacted, Dahlstrom said the restrictions could cripple the Santa Ynez water district financially, with agricultural water service possibly being the first to be affected or shut off during shortages — vineyard owners, in particular.

Wales said ID No. 1’s thorough and aggressive approach has been effective so far.

 “They’re well on their way to working through the problem,” he said.

“They have to continue to do more studies.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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