OCWD Co-Sponsors AB 2560
Last month, Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) President Vicente Sarmiento and General Manager Mike Markus met with California State Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D- Hayward), Chair, Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, to discuss his authoring a bill, which OCWD is co-sponsoring with the California Municipal Utilities Association relating to water quality Notification Levels (NLs) and Response Levels (RLs).
This bill, which has since been authored by Assemblymember Quirk, AB 2560, will provide greater transparency to and clarification of the NL and RL process. The goal is to provide both water agencies and the general public clear and consistent information as these drinking water advisory levels are developed.
Under current law there is a very clear process for the establishment of a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), which is the enforceable drinking water standard to be implemented by public and private water systems. However, there is not a clear and consistent process for the establishment of advisory NLs and RLs, which are not set by a noticed public action of the State Water Resources Control Board (Board), but instead administratively by the Division of Drinking Water (DDW).
The Board adopts MCLs for contaminants, and MCLs take into account not only a contaminant’s health risks but also factors such as its occurrence frequency, detectability, and treatability, as well as costs of treatment. In addition to MCLs, the Board utilizes NLs, which are health-based advisory levels for contaminants in drinking water that do not have an MCL. Generally, NLs are established as precautionary measures for contaminants that may be considered candidates for establishment of MCLs but have not yet undergone or completed the regulatory process prescribed for the development of MCLs and are not drinking water standards.
When chemicals are found at concentrations greater than their NLs, certain statutory requirements are imposed on water systems. Currently, there are 29 contaminants with NLs. In addition, another 24 contaminants have older archived advisory NLs.
Along with NLs, the DDW may establish an RL. This RL is set by the DDW at a somewhat greater health threshold than the NL, but imposes additional requirements on water agencies including recommendations for extensive public notification, treating the source, or removing the source from use entirely. An RL is considered by most California water agencies as a de-facto regulation (i.e., equivalent to an MCL), as the RL carries the recommendation that water not be served above that threshold; no water system in OCWD’s service area will serve water exceeding the RL guidelines.
While NLs and RLs are technically non-enforceable, these levels have real world implications. For instance, when a contaminant is present above the RL, the DDW recommends that the source be taken out of service or customers be notified they are drinking water exceeding the RL.