Water agencies urge grant funding for new drinking water rules

The Association of California Water Agencies is urging Gov. Schwarzenegger and the California legislature to allocate grant funds to help with drinking water regulations like arsenic and perchlorate.

Arsenic, perchlorate regulations will cost millions for compliance

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 10, 2004 -- Following on the heels of a February 3 Senate Agriculture and Water Committee Hearing that focused on the status of Proposition 50 funds, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) is urging Governor Schwarzenegger and the California legislature to allocate grant funds available to help agencies deal with drinking water regulations like arsenic and perchlorate.

ACWA believes priority must be given to drinking water treatment projects that address arsenic and perchlorate, two critical contaminants for which new drinking water standards are pending.

The California Department of Health Services (DHS) is in the process of adopting criteria for awarding grants under Chapter 4 of Proposition 50, a $3.4 billion water bond passed by California voters in 2002. However, Proposition 50 funds were not earmarked in the Governor's budget released in January, pending review of the previous administration's priorities.

"Drinking water regulations continue to be made more numerous and more stringent. Compliance with these regulations will be more difficult and costly than ever," ACWA wrote in its comments to the DHS in January. "This is especially true for the forthcoming arsenic and perchlorate regulations which will result in significantly increased costs to California consumers. We want to make sure the Governor and the Legislature understand that the Prop. 50 funds are essential and must be allocated in the 2004-05 state budget."

ACWA said water agencies seeking funds to comply with the pending California standards for arsenic and perchlorate should be given special consideration because of the major costs involved. In the case of arsenic treatment, ACWA noted, costs will be sharply compounded by waste disposal requirements associated with the treatment process.

Arsenic, a naturally occurring element, is not destroyed in the drinking water treatment process. It is removed from drinking water, creating a leftover residual that likely will be classified as hazardous waste, according to a recent study commissioned by ACWA. The study concluded that the cost of handling and disposing of arsenic treatment residuals could double the overall costs for arsenic treatment, adding $100 million to $150 million to the annual cost of compliance in California.

"These are tremendous costs for water agencies, especially small systems," ACWA Executive Director Steve Hall said. "Making grant funds available to help pay for these costs would be a tremendous benefit to the public."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2000 adopted a new arsenic drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion. California is required in 2004 to adopt either that standard or a lower one. EPA estimated it would cost $180 million annually for all water systems nationally to comply with an arsenic standard of 10 ppb.

ACWA commissioned the arsenic residuals study to identify logistical challenges and cost implications associated with the new arsenic standard. The study findings have been forwarded to the California Department of Health Services for its use in developing the California arsenic drinking water standard.

ACWA is a statewide association whose 440 members are responsible for about 90% of the water delivered in California. For more information, visit http://www.acwanet.com.

More in Drinking Water