Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Driving Conservation: Consumer Water Credits Trading

As the drought in California drags on, the State of California as well as water companies are searching for ways to convince people to continue to conserve that don’t involve simply raising rates or imposing draconian fines and penalties. One way to do that may be the implementation of trading water credits at the consumer level.
Currently, California residents are staring water allocations in the face based on their 2013 usage.  Depending upon how much they and their neighbors have used in the past on a per capita basis, they could be looking at having to cut back anywhere from 4% to 36% from those 2013 numbers.  But what if I have an easier time conserving than my neighbor and reduce my water use by more than required.  Or what if my household in 2013 consisted of me, my wife, and three teenagers who seemed to live half their life in the shower and who have now gone off to college, meaning my water use has already fallen off a cliff, even if my tuition bills haven’t.  If I cut back a whopping 50% based on my 2013 water usage, all I’m likely to get for it is a lower water bill – maybe.  Not even an “Atta boy!” from the water company or Governor Brown. That’s not a great incentive to do more than I absolutely, positively have to, and in fact might be a negative incentive to make sure I don’t do more than required.  And for businesses, forced conservation could result in a decline in revenues and loss of market share, while not conserving could result in tremendous additional costs that eat away at already meager profits.  A definite lose – lose.
So what’s the answer? I’m sure there is more than one, but it could be that allowing individual water consumers to participate in water credit trading on a limited basis could drive conservation to levels not even seen in the wildest dreams of Felicia “Lawn Terminator” Marcus.  How might that work?  Say, with my three teenagers safely off at school, my wife and I use 5,000 gallons per month less than our allocation.  We should be able to “sell” the right to use that water to another individual or business.  That individual or business could then buy those 5,000 gallons from the water company at the normal rate plus a small fee, without any additional penalties even if it were above their allocation.  I, in turn, would get a credit on my next bill equal to that small fee paid by the user.  If you really wanted to go all free market, you could even let the level of that fee float and be determined by what the market would bear.

Granted this is an over-simplification, and many of you will point out flaws, not the least of which is that it’s a complicated structure for the water company to keep track of.  So now instead of hearing about the flaws, how about we hear from some of you on how to make it work. Or let’s hear about your completely out of the box ideas on how to drive conservation.  There really are no wrong answers, only starting points.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hazardous Materials Business Plans 101

The Hazardous Materials Business Plan program was established in 1986 by legislation at both the federal level (Code of FederalRegulations Title 40, Chapter I, Subchapter J, Part 370 and Title 42, Chapter116, Subchapter I, Section 11002) and the state level in California (Health andSafety Code Sections 25500 – 25519 and California Code of Regulations, Title 19, Division 2, Chapter 4, Article4).  It’s primary purpose is to reduce the risk of a hazardous materials release that would harm public health and safety or the environment, while at the same time satisfying public right-to-know laws.  Any business that stores hazardous materials in amounts equal to or greater than the following limits must have a hazardous materials business plan (HMBP):
  • 55 gallons of a liquid; 
  • 500 pounds of a solid;
  • 200 cubic feet of a compressed gas.

Also included would be any extremely hazardous substance over its threshold planning quantity as described in 40 CFR, Part 355, AppendixA.  This last list would not be as applicable to water related businesses, except that it does include chlorine.  So if you use chlorine gas that would certainly apply to you. 
So what is a hazardous material?  The California Health and Safety Code lists a hazardous material as anything that, “because of its quantity, concentration, or physical or chemical characteristics, poses a significant present or potential hazard to human health and safety or to the environment if released into the workplace or the environment, or a material specified in an ordinance.”  That’s a pretty all encompassing definition that could make anything hazardous.  Thankfully, there are some more definitive lists that you can turn to such as:

An HMBP is the document which contains detailed information on the storage of those hazardous materials.  One is required for each location where hazardous materials are stored.  If a business has multiple locations where hazardous materials in excess of the storage limits listed above are stored or used, then a separate HMBP must be completed for each of those sites.  The HMBP must contain:
Business Activities – this section details what activities are engaged in at the site that involves hazardous materials.
Business Owner / Operator Identification – identifies the owner/operator of the facility along with emergency contact information.
Hazardous Materials Inventory – a one page document required for each hazardous material stored at that individual location.
Site Map – A map of the site showing specifically where the hazardous materials are stored, including:
  • the outline of any buildings
  • site orientation (North arrow)
  • loading areas and parking lots
  •  internal roads
  • storm and sewer drains
  •  adjacent property uses
  • adjacent streets, alleys, or other access
  • access and egress points
  • evacuation routes
  • staging areas
  • fire hydrants. 
  • fire extinguishers
  • emergency shut-down systems for electrical and other equipment
  • the storage location for the HMBP

 Emergency Response Plan – includes the action to take in case of emergency; local utility information; local medical provider information; emergency equipment available on-site; and emergency contact information.
Employee Training Plan – describes the training provided to facility personel to make them aware of the hazardous materials being stored and used on-site, as well as the training provided for emergency response.
Other documents may also be included depending upon the type of material being stored, such as if you have underground fuel storage tanks.

For those Certified Unified Program Agency’s (CUPAs) utilizing the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS), all of these forms and the information needed to help you fill them out is located at  For those few CUPAs that utilize their own electronic reporting system, you can obtain all the required forms from them.  Check with your CUPA to see if they are participating in CERS.
An HMBP must be updated within 30 days of any changes being made to any of the information contained in the various sections.  An annual certification must also be made that the HMBP is current and up to date.  These certification can be made through the CERS website, or you local CUPAs electronic portal.

There is a great deal of valuable information contained in a hazardous materials business plan that can help prevent hazardous materials releases or mitigate their impacts, as well as being of help to first responders on the scene of an emergency at a facility that stores hazardous materials.  But like anything else, they are only any good if the information they contain is up to date and accurate.  If you need any help with HMBPs or dealing with hazardous materials in general, please contact me at, and I’d be happy to help.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

California Environmental Reporting System (CERS)

(c) Susie Vowell
Any business that has to handle and store hazardous materials has a responsibility to make sure they are doing so responsibly and in a way that meets all current regulations.  For those that store above certain thresholds of hazardous materials, that includes having a Hazardous Materials Business Plan (HMBP) and submitting it to your regulator.  In California that requires using an electronic submittal portal, either one supplied by the individual CUPA in some cases, but in most cases, it means the California Environmental Reporting System, or CERS.

What is CERS?  “The California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) is a statewide web-based system to support California Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) and Participating Agencies (PAs) in electronically collecting and reporting various hazardous materials-related data as mandated by the California Health and Safety Code and new 2008 legislation (AB 2286). Under oversight by Cal/EPA, CUPAs implement Unified Program mandates that streamline and provide consistent regulatory activities.” (CERS Central website) Yikes.  In much simpler terms that even I can understand, CERS is an electronic submittal program that allows businesses to submit their HMBPs and some other environmental reporting documents, and keep those submittals updated or certify annually that there have been no changes.

Submittals to CERS include hazardous materials business plans, chemical inventories, site maps, underground and aboveground tank data, and hazardous waste related data.  Any business that is regulated by a CUPA and needs to submit such documents must do so electronically using CERS or the individual CUPA reporting portal if they have one.  Paper forms cannot be submitted.  The local CUPA reporting portals and CERS are supposed to communicate and swap data, but that aspect of the program still has some issues.  Your local CUPA is not supposed to require you to submit to their local reporting tool rather than CERS, but you might find that has issues as well.

If you’ve never used CERS before, it’s really not very hard.  There are lots of training resources available on the website, and if you still have questions, I’d be more than happy to help.  You can contact me via my WeWork4Water website, LinkedIn, or e-mail me at .

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

California’s Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA) System

Hazardous materials management and hazardous waste management in California can be an undertaking that spans multiple regulatory authorities across many levels of government, making it a daunting task. The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) seeks to simplifyy that process a bit by consolidating many of those functions under the umbrella of the Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPA).
CUPAs are usually a county or city health department or fire department that has gone through the process of applying to and being approved by Cal/EPA for status as the CUPA.  These local government agencies are responsible for implementing the standards set by the state agencies responsible for the following six programs:

  •  Hazardous Materials Release Response Plans and Inventories (Business Plans),
  • California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) Program,
  • Underground Storage Tank Program,
  • Above-ground Petroleum Storage Act,
  • Hazardous Waste Generator and Onsite Hazardous Waste Treatment (tiered permitting) Programs,
  • California Uniform Fire Code: Hazardous Material Management Plans and Hazardous Material Inventory Statements.
One of the big benefits of this program is the need for only one permit to cover any and all of these programs, rather than having to track multiple permits.  Other benefits come from having one agency doing inspections, rather than multiple agencies that may have mutually exclusive perspectives for a given requirement; a single fee structure, which should end up being less expensive theoretically; and the need to only submit forms and other information one time to one agency, rather than submitting the same information to multiple entities.
You can learn a great deal more about CUPAs from the Cal/EPA Unified Program Home.  You can also look up who the CUPA is for any location by using the Unified Program Regulator Directory.  Other good sources of information on the topic include the California CUPA Forum, and Unidocs , which is an extensive collection of information dealing with hazardous materials.

Next time we’ll take a look at the still relatively new reporting system for Unified Program required information, the California Environmental Reporting System, or CERS.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Complying with California's New Hexavalent Chromium Regulation

California, always striving to be at the forefront of just about everything, is now the first state in the US to implement a drinking water regulation for hexavalent chromium, or chrome 6.  Even though the regulation remains hotly contested, it is now the law.  So what does that mean to water quality professionals and operators in the field?  Let’s take a look at the regulation and see.

The new regulation went into effect on July 1, 2014. That’s the same day that responsibility for the drinking water program in the state transferred from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water (DDW). CDPH sent out a letter on June 20 that had a good overview of the regulation. You can get a copy of the most recently updated drinking water related regulations from the still functioning CDPH  website, or you can download a copy of it here. Chrome 6, or hexavalent chromium as they have it listed, is included with the other regulated inorganic contaminants starting at the bottom of page 109.  The approved method for analysis is EPA Method 218.6 or 218.7, and a list of laboratories approved to run these methods as of May 22, 2014 is available here.  Make sure you call and talk to whatever lab you chose just to make sure they are currently certified and what their sample submission guidelines are.

Although the regulation takes effect July 1, §64432(b) states “…each community and nontransient-noncommunity water system shall initiate monitoring for an inorganic chemical within six months following the effective date of the regulation…”, so you have until the end of the year to take your initial sample. If you've already taken samples, §64432(b)(1) allows you to use data collected in the previous two years as your initial sampling, so chrome 6 data from July 1, 2012 thru June 30, 2014 can be used if you so desire. You would just have to go back and ask your lab to upload it to the state database to make sure it’s been entered as compliance data.  You would also need to make sure the samples had been analyzed using one of the appropriate methods, because if they weren't they won’t be acceptable as compliance data.

Alternately, §64432(b)(2) of the regulation allows you to use total chromium data in lieu of chrome 6 data if your total chromium results are below the total chrome detection limit for purposes of reporting (DLR) of 0.010 mg/L.  The logic there is since chrome 6 is included as a part of the total chromium analysis, if total chrome is below 0.010 mg/L, then chrome 6 must be as well.

Technically, the regulation should allow you to collect samples at the source or at the entry point to the distribution system.  §64432(e) states “Samples shall be collected from each water source or a supplier may collect a minimum of one sample at every entry point to the distribution system which is representative of each source after treatment.” However, regulators seem to be interpreting that to mean the sample must be taken at the source.  It’s a good idea to discuss with your local DDW office where your compliance sampling point needs to be, and be sure to sample from the same location every time.

Like most inorganics, the initial monitoring will determine your subsequent monitoring schedule.  §64432(j) states, “If a system using groundwater has collected a minimum of two quarterly samples or a system using approved surface water has collected a minimum of four quarterly samples and the sample results have been below the MCL, the system may apply to the Department for a reduction in monitoring frequency.”  Compliance with the MCL will be determined on a running annual average (RAA) of 4 quarters of data.  If you take more than one sample per quarter, the average of the samples for that quarter will be used in calculating the RAA.

There is a provision in the regulation (§64432(f) on the bottom of page 112) for any inorganic contaminant that allows you to composite up to 5 wells. However, you have to get approval from CDPH for such a plan, and it is based in part on 3 years of historical data.  I’m guessing that with the political nature of chrome 6, the newly minted DDW may not want to venture down this road. 

So what are the options if you have wells over the MCL? There are various forms of treatment, which of course are all very costly. Best available technologies (BAT) for chrome 6 are coagulation/filtration; ion exchange; or reverse osmosis.  All of these have quite high capital and operational expenses. I think systems with a mix of wells, some over the MCL and some under, need to look long and hard at blending. If you’re wells are scattered that means installing dedicated transmission mains, which is costly and disruptive. But I think when you do a cost analysis on how much treatment is going to cost, looking at both capital and operations, you might find that installing transmissions mains, even long ones, to facilitate blending doesn't look so bad.

That’s a general overview of the new regulation, and a synopsis of compliance issues to be aware of. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me and ask. You can always contact me via LinkedIn or e-mail at 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

SWRCB Proposing Mandatory Outdoor Water Conservation for All Californians

State Water Resources Control Board This is a message from the State Water Resources Control Board.

This message is to notify interested parties of the availability of the attached Proposed Emergency Regulations pertaining to the Prohibition of Activities and Mandatory Actions During the Drought Emergency; Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking; Emergency Regulations Digest; and Fact Sheet.

This item will be considered at the July 15, 2014 State Water Board meeting.  The State Water Board is particularly interested in hearing comments on the applicability of the proposed regulations to wholesale water suppliers, as well as comments pertaining to other aspects of the proposed regulations.

For more information about the Board meeting please refer to the July 15, 2014 agenda that is available at:

Related files:

  1. Proposed Emergency Regulations pertaining to the Prohibition of Activities and Mandatory Actions During the Drought Emergency
  2. Notice of Proposed Emergency Rulemaking
  3. Emergency Regulations Digest
  4. Fact Sheet

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why I Worry About Advanced Oxidation Water Treatment

Advanced oxidation processes are becoming more prevalent in wastewater, recycled water, and drinking water treatment. There is no doubt that these processes are very effective at treating a wide range of otherwise difficult to treat for chemicals from whatever source you start with. But what happens to the chemicals we are treating for when we use advanced oxidation? And could we be creating a bigger problem than we started with?

Advanced oxidation (AO) refers to treatment to remove chemicals by oxidation through reactions with hydroxyl radicals.  Most commonly, this is achieved by the addition of either ozone (O3) or hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and then exposure to UV light.  The process is very effective; if you have a given chemical in your source and then treat it by an AO process and re-test it, the chemical will be found at a greatly reduced level or even be completely gone.  But where did it go?  This is not an adsorptive process like ion exchange or treatment with GAC; the chemical is not being physically removed from the water. The Law of Conservation of Mass, as well as common sense, dictates that it cannot simply disappear. And AO treatment does not break chemicals down all the way to their individual atomic constituents. So what’s really happening?

The AO process simply changes the chemical into something else.  Usually, a chemical is broken down into smaller chemicals, although that is not always the case.  Sometimes its form is simply modified.  So what you end up with after advanced oxidation is not contaminant free water.  You have simply traded one contaminant for one or more others.  That is the point at which I start to worry about the AO process.  To oversimplify, the AO process takes one contaminant that we may or may not understand the toxicity of, and modifies it into one or more different contaminants that we probably know even less about.

Some research has been done on this issue, but not nearly enough.  One group of researchers show how the cancer drug cyclophosphamide (1), when treated by AO, has as its main reaction product 4-ketocyclophosphamide.  You can see from the chemical structures in Figure 1 that the reaction product is not much changed from the parent compound.

 If you analyzed your water after treatment, it would appear the cyclophosphamide had gone, which it has, but only to be replaced by a very similar compound.  Is that good? Is the water after treatment more protective of the environment and of public health?  I don’t think we have any idea, which is exactly the point.

Another excellent paper that came out in 2007 in The Journal of the International Ozone Association (2) reviews the knowledge of a wide range of compounds and how they react in the AO process. In the paper, the authors state “In some cases, disappearance of parent pharmaceutical compounds does not indicate successful treatment because the degraded products may be as biologically active as the parent compounds.”  The degraded products may be as biologically active as the parent compounds.  Or they may not.  Or we may have absolutely no idea if they are or not, so we may have no idea whether what we are considering treatment isn’t itself a source of contamination. 

In the same paper, one of the compounds reviewed is carbamazepine, a widely used anticonvulsant that “has been found ubiquitously in the aquatic environment.”  The reaction products of carbamazepine after AO are several, and have names far too long for me to type out here. But the authors recognized that these reaction products were “polycyclic heteroaromatics known to be toxic to aquatic organisms.”  Are they more or less toxic than the carbemazapine itself? Do they have synergistic effects that cause them to be more toxic working together than separately? Again, we just don’t know.

Just this year, a paper was published describing a new tool that is available to try and answer the question of how compounds break down when subjected to AO. In the ACS Journal Environmental Science & Technology, Xin Guo, et al (3) gives the basis for a model that can be used to “predict the degradation mechanisms and fates of intermediates and byproducts produced during aqueous-phase advanced oxidation processes for various organic compounds.”  That’s sounds like a great tool that those who implement these processes should look into to help predict what’s actually happening during treatment.

AO is a promising technique that has proven applications in many water treatment scenarios, whether you’re dealing with wastewater, drinking water, or water recycling.  But a great deal more study needs to be done to make sure we aren’t creating bigger problems than we currently have.  I call upon all of those involved in the issue, manufacturers, end users, and industry associations like AWWA, WRF, and WEF, to support the investment needed for research into these questions.

1)                  Hernandez C, Fernandez LA, Bataller M, Lopez A, Veliz E, Ledea O, Alvarez C, Besada V, Cyclophosphamide degradation by ozoneunder advanced oxidation process conditions, IOA 17th World Ozone Congress, Strasbourg, 2005, VI.3.2-1-11

2)                  Ikehata, K.; Naghashkar, N.J.; Ei-Din, M.G. Degradation of aqueous pharmaceuticals by ozonation and advanced oxidationprocesses: A review. Ozone Sci. Eng. 2006, 28, 353–414.

3)                  Computer-Based First-Principles Kinetic Modelingof Degradation Pathways and Byproduct Fates in Aqueous-Phase Advanced OxidationProcesses, Xin Guo, Daisuke Minakata, Junfeng Niu, and John Crittenden; Environmental Science & Technology 2014 48 (10), 5718-5725