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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Environment & Forest Defense
Safe Drinking Water Act Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program in California
Overdrafting and aquifer depletion, also occurs in oil and gas fields, and unassociated gas fields, as a result of oil and gas industry water use in both the production and disposal of wastes in 'exempt aquifers' or portions of basin and sub-basin aquifers (exempted under the SDWA). Contaminants migrate and 'exempt aquifers' water pumping is not tallied. If the aquifer is used for waste disposal then monitor wells may be tested if public water wells are present in the area. Unconstrained aquifers, and constrained aquifers may contain good drinking water, or irrigation water, but because of remote locations , hydrocarbon extraction is given preferential permitting.
How do you designate an aquifer as a “Sole Source” Aquifer? Anyone can petition...
The Safe Drinking Water Act Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program in California
Sole Source Aquifers, Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
The EPA's Sole Source Aquifer (SSA) Program was established under Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA.) Since 1977, it has been used by communities to help prevent contamination of groundwater from federally-funded projects. It has increased public awareness of the vulnerability of groundwater resources. The SSA program allows for EPA environmental review (PDF) (1pg, 34K) of any project which is financially assisted by federal grants or federal loan guarantees. These projects are evaluated to determine whether they have the potential to contaminate a sole source aquifer.
CA Fresno County Aquifer 44 FR 52751 09/10/79 KMZ
PDF (1 pg, 1.3M)
CA Santa Margarita Aquifer, Scotts Valley 50 FR 2023 01/14/85 KMZ
PDF (1 pg, 434K)
CA Campo/Cottonwood Creek 58 FR 31024 05/28/93 KMZ
PDF (1 pg, 321K)
CA Ocotillo-Coyote Wells Aquifer 61 FR 47752 09/10/96 KMZ
PDF (1 pg, 337K)
Region 9 oversees many programs protecting coastal waters, from Malibu to Guam. Coastal fresh water replenishes ground water reservoirs, creates unique springs and waterfalls, and supports vegetation that filters out impurities and reduces the speed, volume, and frequency of flooding events. Coastal salt water travels from the sea into bays, harbors, inlets, and sloughs.
These waters support a variety of estuarine habitats and create nurseries for different species of fish, including coastal salmon. Residents and tourists alike enjoy California's dramatic coastline and Hawaii's world renowned beaches. Ensuring that coastal waters like these are safe for recreation is an important part of EPA's mission.
In the Pacific Southwest, 80% of public water supply systems rely to some extent on ground water. Ground water is vulnerable to contamination from activities occurring on and below the earth's surface. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) authorizes three EPA ground water protection activities: the Underground Injection Control (UIC) regulatory program, the Sole Source Aquifer (SSA) designation program, and the Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWP) program, which includes Wellhead Protection
Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974 to protect public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply and protecting sources of drinking water.
EPA establishes enforceable health standards for contaminants based on monitoring and reporting by public water systems and provides financial and technical assistance to states and tribes to carry out national requirements.
The Sole Source Aquifer Program’s review authority extends only to projects funded with federal assistance that are to be implemented in designated sole source aquifer areas. (For
regulations applicable to new private development, you should consult with your local, county or state environmental health agency.)
Typical projects reviewed by the U.S. EPA include housing projects undertaken by Housing and Urban Development, and highway construction and expansion projects undertaken by the Federal Highway Administration. In 1991, the U.S. EPA reviewed 152 federal assistance projects totaling $571 million; of these projects, 25 had to be modified to prevent contamination of sole source aquifers. Modifications included the redesign of bridges and highways to prevent spills of hazardous materials.
How do you designate an aquifer as a “Sole Source” Aquifer?
As the name implies, only a “sole source” aquifer can qualify for the program. To be a sole source, the aquifer must supply more than 50% of a community’s drinking water. Any individual, corporation, association, or federal, state or local agency may petition the U.S. EPA for sole source aquifer designation, provided the petition includes sufficient hydrogeologic information. An outline describing how such petitions should be prepared is contained in The Sole Source Aquifer Designation Petitioner Guidance, copies of which are available at EPA Regional offices.
Sole Source Aquifer Project Review Information
Responses to 1-14 below will assist the EPA’s Sole Source Aquifer (SSA) Program in
evaluating whether proposed projects have the potential to contaminate a sole source
aquifer. EPA may request additional information as necessary.
1. Provide: location of project, map, and name of sole source aquifer.
2. Provide: project description and federal funding source (e.g., Federal Highway
Administration, Housing and Urban Development etc.)
3. Will the project result in any increase of impervious surface? If so, what is the area?
4. Provide: description of how storm water is currently treated on the project site.
5. How will storm water be treated on this site during construction and after the project is
6. Are there underground storage tanks present or to be installed? Include details of tanks.
7. Will any liquid or solid waste be generated? If so how will it be disposed of?
8. What is the depth of excavation?
9. Are there any wells in the area that may provide direct routes for contaminates to access
the aquifer and how close are they to the project?
10. Are there any hazardous waste sites in the project area? Do any such waste sites have
underground plumes with monitoring wells that may be disturbed? Include details.
11. Are there any deep pilings that may provide access to the aquifer?
12. Are Best Management Practices planned to address any possible risks or concerns?
13. Does the project include any improvements that may be beneficial to the aquifer, such as
improvements to the wastewater treatment plan?
14. Is there any other information that could be helpful in determining if this project may have
an affect on the aquifer?
A True Revolution Of Values
SSA designation is one tool to protect drinking water supplies in areas where there are few or no alternative sources to the ground water resource and where, if contamination occurred, using an alternative source would be extremely expensive. The designation protects an area's ground water resource by requiring EPA to review certain proposed projects within the designated area. All proposed projects receiving federal funds are subject to review to ensure that they do not endanger the water source.
The SSA protection program is authorized by section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-523, 42 U.S.C. 300 et seq.). It states the following:
"If the Administrator determines, on his own initiative or upon petition, that an area has an aquifer which is the sole or principal drinking water source for the area and which, if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health, he shall publish notice of that determination in the Federal Register. After the publication of any such notice, no commitment for federal financial assistance (through a grant, contract, loan guarantee, or otherwise) may be entered into for any project which the Administrator determines may contaminate such aquifer through a recharge zone so as to create a significant hazard to public health, but a commitment for federal assistance may, if authorized under another provision of law, be entered into to plan or design the project to assure that it will not so contaminate the aquifer."
With minor changes it now reads:
The Sole Source Aquifer program was established under Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974. This section authorizes the EPA Administrator to determine that an aquifer is the "sole or principal" source of drinking water for an area. The program also provides for EPA review of Federal financially assisted projects planned for the area to determine their potential for contaminating the aquifer. Based on this review, no commitment of Federal financial assistance may be made for projects "which the Administrator determines may contaminate such aquifer," although Federal funds may be used to modify projects to ensure that they will not contaminate the aquifer. As of October 1986, there were twenty-one designated Sole Source Aquifers nationwide.
EPA published the Sole Source Aquifer Designation Petitioner Guidance in 1987 to assist those interested in preparing and submitting SSA designation petitions to EPA regional offices. The document provides procedures and criteria for proposing aquifer boundaries, determining whether an aquifer is the sole or principal source of drinking water, and evaluating alternative sources of drinking water.
Sole source aquifer designation petitioner guidance:
Any person may apply for SSA designation. A "person" is any individual, corporation, company, association, partnership, state, municipality or federal agency. Most petitioners work closely with their EPA regional office in developing an SSA petition. A petitioner is responsible for providing EPA with hydrogeologic and drinking water usage data, as well as technical and administrative information required for assessing designation criteria, as detailed in the Guidance. Following EPA's technical review of a petition, the Agency summarizes the information in a technical support document that is made available for public review. A Federal Register notice is published at the end of the review process to announce EPA's decision to designate the area as a sole source aquifer and explain the basis for the decision.
Critical Aquifer Protection Areas
The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, enacted June 1986, established the Sole Source Aquifer Demonstration Program, which is separate from, but dependent upon, the Sole Source Aquifer program. The Sole Source Aquifer Demonstration Program establishes procedures for developing, implementing and assessing demonstrations designed to protect critical aquifer protection areas (CAPAs). A CAPA is an area that:
Must be located with an area designated as a Sole Source Aquifer by June 19, 1986 and has a Clean Water Act, Section 208, ground water quality protection plan approved prior to that same date;
Must be located within an area that is designated as a Sole Source Aquifer no later than June 19, 1988, and which satisfies the CAPA criteria EPA must establish by June 19, 1987.
The text of Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act creating the
Sole Source Aquifer Program:
Section 1424(e) Safe Drinking Water Act Creating the Sole Source Aquifer Program
(e) If the Administrator determines, on his own initiative or upon petition, that an area has an aquifer which is the sole or principal drinking water source for the area and which, if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health, he shall publish notice of that determination in the Federal Register. After the publication of any such notice, no commitment for Federal financial assistance (through a grant, contract, loan guarantee, or otherwise) may be entered into for any project which the Administrator determines may contaminate such aquifer through a recharge zone so as to create a significant hazard to public health, but a commitment for Federal financial assistance may, if authorized under another provision of law, be entered into to plan or design the project to assure that it will not so contaminate the aquifer.
California Coast Keeper Alliance
Half of Californians rely on groundwater as a source of drinking water, and in some areas it is the only water source. There are more than 10,000 public supply groundwater wells throughout the state. In an average year, groundwater accounts for 25 to 40% of California’s water supply, and can reach 65% in a drought year. California uses more groundwater than any other state, pumping nearly 15 billion gallons of groundwater every day. Use of groundwater for domestic supplies (private wells) occurs most often in the central part of California, where land use is dominated by agriculture. Contaminated groundwater results in treatment costs, well closures, and new well construction which increases costs for consumers.
California’s 305(b) Report, the most comprehensive state report on California’s groundwater resources, estimates that one third of the areal extent of the state’s groundwater resources is contaminated to such a severe degree that they cannot be used for the purposes that the state designated as appropriate.
Region 9 SSA maps are on the web:
For more information about SSA designation and project reviews, please call David Albright, manager of the Ground Water Office, at (415) 972-3971 or email
albright.david [at] epa.gov.
It's more complicated than just North South demographics.
There's such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time.
In 2011, PPIC produced a Report:
Managing California’s Water From Conflict to Reconciliation
© 2011 by Public Policy Institute of California.
In the 2011 report issued by the Public Policy Institute Center, as elsewhere, it's depicted as farmers against CEQA, or farmers vs fish in the rivers in the north. Never mentioned is the water use by oil and gas operations in the state; unless it is portrayed as a Technological Wonder Megastructure.
Here's the same storyline...
State of Thirst: California's Water Future - KQED QUEST VIDEO 26 mins
With fish populations crashing, global warming, and the demands of the country's largest agricultural industry, the pressures on our water supply are increasing.
But overdrafting also occurs in oil and gas fields, and unassociated gas fields, as a result of wells used for oil and gas industry production and disposal in 'exempt aquifers' or portions of basin and sub-basin aquifers exempted under the SDWA. Contaminants migrate and 'exempt aquifers' water pumping is not tallied. If the aquifer is used for waste disposal then monitor wells may be tested, but that may be excluded determined by the remote location of said aquifer. It can be totally good drinking water, irrigation water, but because it is remote, hydrocarbon extraction is given preferential permitting.
Remote groundwater aquifers of the North State Interior and North Coast are at risk under SB 4 the 'new' Well Stimulation Regulations'. Basins of unconventional non-associated gas reservoirs and remote basin aquifers are associated, however they are separate, as in the north it is mostly dry gas, or tight gas.
A MUST SEE topographical map of groundwater aquifer basins in California.
Figure 4.1 page 193, adjudicated basins DWR Bulletin 118 Aquifers
505 pages full report 8 MB
Confronted With The Fierce Urgency Of Now
A Statewide Moratorium on Fracking Is Paramount
The EIR must be done before the Rules Implementation begins.