CV-SALTS – Managing Salt and Nitrate in the California Central Valley
Two Nitrate Compliance Pathways for Permittees to Choose
Once nitrate permittees receive a Notice to Comply with the Nitrate Control Program, they have a choice of two pathways for compliance. After receiving a Notice to Comply, permittees must choose a pathway and file a notice of intent.
Coming Soon: Developing (Priority 2) Groundwater Subbasins
Developing (Priority2) groundwater subbasins are Yolo, Merced, Kern County (west side south), Tulare Lake, Kern County (Peso), Delta Mendota, Eastern San Joaquin, and Madera.
Notices to Comply will be sent to permittees in these areas between 2022 and 2024. Permittees in developing (Priority 2) should be preparing for future compliance with the Nitrate Program.
Pathway A: Individual Permitting Approach
A permittee or groups of permittees subject to a single order may opt to comply under the individual permit requirements.
Pathway A compliance options are difficult and expensive if there are drinking water wells near your facility that are high in nitrates, if your discharge is high in nitrates, or if local shallow groundwater exceeds 75% of the nitrate drinking water standard.
Pathway B: Local Management Zone
When a permittee chooses Pathway B and joins a Management Zone, they receive an exception from the nitrate standard and must work with Management Zone members to first assure safe drinking water.
Permittees opt to work collectively with other permittees through a Management Zone. A Management Zone serves as a discrete regulatory compliance unit for nitrate compliance. Permittees would ensure that those impacted by nitrate have safe drinking water within the zone while continuing to implement best practices and nitrogen management plans. In turn, permittees may be allowed greater flexibility and more time to achieve nitrogen balance and restore nitrate affected water bodies.
Pathway B offers many benefits and will be best choice for permittees that cannot meet the Pathway A approach.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I need to know to get started?
If you are in an upcoming groundwater basin – Yolo, Merced, Kern County (west side south), Tulare Lake, Kern County (Poso), Delta Mendota, Eastern San Joaquin, and Madera – you will want to learn about the two different pathways for nitrate compliance so you can make an informed decision as to which pathway works best for you. The two pathways for nitrate compliance are:
Pathway A – Individual Permitting
Pathway B – Form or Join Local Management Zone with other permittees. Pathway B provides a collaborative, locally managed, cost-effective, flexible approach.
To familiarize yourself with the nitrate compliance pathways:
1. Watch this short video Nitrates in the Groundwater, The Issue, 2019
2. Read this: Nitrate Control Program Offers Choices for Compliance
3. Read this: New Nitrate Control Program, More about Management Zones
Both Pathway A and Pathway B require the development of an Early Actions Plan to provide safe drinking water.
Prior to determining which pathway to follow, permittees (individually or collectively) should conduct an initial assessment of their discharges and nearby groundwater conditions. Permittees should also identify and evaluate any Preliminary Management Zone Proposals (please note that once Preliminary Management Zone Proposals are submitted to the Central Valley Water Board, we will make this a link to proposals that have been submitted) applicable to the area in which they discharge. Preliminary Management Zone Proposals are prepared by permittees electing to work cooperatively under Pathway B.
How does Nitrate compliance affect my industry?
A number of industries and operations are affected by nitrate compliance requirements, from agricultural to oil and gas, publicly operated treatment works, and more. The Central Valley Water Board will determine the applicability of the new nitrate compliance to permittees. A Notice to Comply will be issued when the new nitrate regulations apply to a given operation.
Click below for some industry-specific information:
If I chose Pathway A – Individual Permitting, what does that involve?
Pathway A, Individual Permitting, provides that a permittee or groups of permittees subject to a single WDR may opt to comply under individual permit provisions that:
- Define requirements to protect shallow groundwater.
- Establish five discharge categories with associated compliance requirements.
- Establish trigger levels for additional required actions.
- Ensure that those affected by nitrate in the discharge area have safe drinking water.
Pathway A compliance options are difficult and expensive if:
- There are drinking water wells near your facility that are high in nitrates.
- Your discharge is high in nitrates,
- Local shallow groundwater exceeds 75% of the nitrate drinking water standard.
If any of the above conditions are true, Pathway A may require you to undertake some or all of the following actions requiring evaluation and approval from the Central Valley Water Board:
- Make significant upgrades to your facility.
- Conduct extensive monitoring of discharge and local groundwater including assessing nitrate impacts to shallow groundwater.
- Provide replacement drinking water to local residents.
- Categorize impact of discharge over 20-year horizon. There are five categories for permittees choosing to comply under Pathway A. Permittees provide rigorous technical hydrogeologic justification of what groundwater will look like in your area in 20 years.
- Prepare an Early Action Plan (EAP) if nitrate affects drinking water.
- If a permittee is in Category 4 or 5, submit a proposed Alternative Compliance Project (ACP) to the Central Valley Water Board as an additional condition.
Steps and Timeline for Nitrate Compliance under Pathway A
To understand the steps that a permittee needs to take when considering compliance under Pathway A, click here to see the steps that will need to be taken.
Within 11 months of Notice to Comply, submit Notice of Intent with: (a) initial nitrate assessment of your ability to meet the water quality objective for nitrates, and (b) if your discharge is causing any well used for drinking water in your area to exceed the nitrate water quality objective, then prepare and implement an Early Action Plan to provide safe drinking water, and (c) if required for your nitrate category, prepare and implement an Alternative Compliance Project; OR, switch to Pathway B and join the Management Zone in your area.
What is a Management Zone?
The Nitrate Control Program defines a Management Zone as, “A discrete and generally hydrologically contiguous area for which permittees participating in the Management Zone collectively work to meet the goals of the nitrate control program and for which regulatory compliance is evaluated based on the permittees collective impact.”1
A Management Zone is a:
- Defined area for nitrate compliance that is locally led and Central Valley Water Board approved.
- Contractual agreement among permittees.
- Cooperative effort among permittees, local government, and communities, and enforced through discharge permit provisions.
- Collective implementation plan developed by permittees for safe drinking water.
- Permittee cooperative to control nitrates.
Over the long-term, forming a Management Zone will help achieve nitrate balance and restore groundwater, where feasible.
1Categorization of nitrate impacts is detailed beginning on page A2-15: Nitrate Permitting Strategy
What is the Authority of a Management Zone?
A Management Zone is a regulatory alternative, or alternative compliance pathway, for the Central Valley Water Board to permit discharges of nitrate to waters of the state. The Central Valley Water Board ensures implementation of commitments made by permittees through waste discharge requirements (WDRs).
What are the benefits of joining a Management Zone?
Joining a Management Zone offers several key benefits for permittees choosing to work together to achieve nitrate compliance:
1. Work collectively to ensure safe drinking water supplies to affected areas within the Management Zone.
2. Avoid “going it alone” under demanding individual permit (Pathway A)
3. Share resources, knowledge, and costs of nitrate management by working with others.
4. Manage nitrate problems locally with more flexibility than under past regulations.
5. Apply local knowledge to implement nitrate reduction actions by adapting management to local conditions.
6. Support a vision that manages nitrate for a viable local economy and community over the long-term.
Who should Join a Management Zone?
- Permittees that cannot comply with current nitrate limitations to protect groundwater.
- Permittees that value collaborating for prioritizing nitrate control strategies and costs.
- Local city and county governments representing communities with drinking water needs due to nitrate.
- Local water agencies and other agencies managing groundwater such as Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) regions and Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs).
I would like to join or help form a Management Zone, what should I do?
It is up to permittees in upcoming areas to come together and form Management Zones. First, you can check in with the people already working on, or beginning to work on, forming Management Zones in your area to learn how you can participate. As of early 2022 there are five active Management Zones, Valley Water Collaborative, Chowchilla Subbasin, Kings Water Alliance, Kaweah Water Foundation, and Tule Basin.
The formation of a Management Zone involves connecting with other permittees, local city and county governments representing communities with drinking water needs due to nitrates, local water agencies and other agencies managing groundwater such as Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) regions and Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), as well as organizations working with disadvantaged communities. Find out if your area is forming a Management Zone by clicking here.
What has to be submitted to the Regional Board to form a Management Zone?
The following proposals and plans must be developed and submitted to the Central Valley Water Board:
1. Preliminary Management Zone Proposal and Early Action Plan are due to the Central Valley Water Board within 270 days of receiving a Notice to Comply.
2. The Early Action Plan implementation must begin within 60 days of submittal.
3. The Final Management Zone Proposal is due 180 days after public comment and Central Valley Water Board Review of the Preliminary Management Zone Proposal.
4. Management Zone Implementation Plan is due 180 days after public comment and Central Valley Water Board Review of the Final Management Zone Proposal.
The Final Management Zone Implementation Plan must be approved by the Central Valley Water Board after public comment and public hearing.
What is an Early Action Plan (EAP)?
For the purposes of the Nitrate Control Program, an EAP is defined as “a plan that identifies specific activities, and a schedule for implementing those activities, that will be undertaken to ensure immediate access to safe drinking water for those who are dependent on groundwater from wells that exceed the Primary MCL for nitrate.” Such plans are required if public water supply or domestic wells in the area of contribution for an individual permittee, or the area of contribution for the whole of a Management Zone exceed the water quality objective for nitrate.
EAP must include the following, unless otherwise approved by the Central Valley Water Board’s Executive Officer:
1. A process to identify affected residents and the outreach utilized to ensure that impacted groundwater users are informed of and given the opportunity to participate in the development of proposed solutions;
2. A process for coordinating with others that are not permittees to address drinking water issues, which must include consideration of coordinating with affected communities, domestic well users and their representatives, the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water, Local Planning Departments, Local County Health Officials, Sustainable Groundwater Management Agencies and others as appropriate;
3. Specific actions and a schedule of implementation (as short as practicable) to address the immediate drinking water needs of those initially identified within the Management Zone (Pathway B) or for an individual permittee (Pathway A) the area of contribution for an individual permittee that are drinking groundwater that exceeds nitrate standards and that do not otherwise have interim replacement water that meets drinking water standards; and
4. A funding mechanism for implementing the EAP, which may include seeking funding from Management Zone participants, and/or local, state and federal funds that are available for such purposes.
5. For participants in a Management Zone (Pathway B), the EAP is submitted to the Central Valley Water Board with the submittal of a Preliminary Management Zone Proposal. Implementation of the EAP shall begin as soon as is reasonably feasible, but no later than 60 days after submittal, unless the Central Valley Water Board deems the EAP to be incomplete.
6. For individual permittees (Pathway A), the EAP is submitted to the Central Valley Water Board 60 days from 270 days after receiving a Notice to Comply.
What is the Guidance for Engaging Communities During Development?
Existing Management Zones have been conducting outreach since 2020 and can assist new Management Zones. Contact information can be found on their websites.
For further information on community engagement, the State Water Resources Board developed an Early Action Plan Engagement guide.