The western San Joaquin Valley is one of the most productive farming areas in the United States, but salt-buildup in soils and shallow groundwater aquifers threatens this area?s productivity. Elevated selenium concentrations in soils and groundwater complicate drainage management and salt disposal. In this document, we evaluate constraints on drainage management and implications of various approaches to management considered in:
*the San Luis Drainage Feature Re-Evaluation (SLDFRE) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (about 5,000 pages of documentation, including supporting technical reports and appendices);
*recent conceptual plans put forward by the San Luis Unit (SLU) contractors (i.e., the SLU Plans) (about 6 pages of documentation);
*approaches recommended by the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program (SJVDP) (1990a); and
*other U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) models and analysis relevant to the western San Joaquin Valley.
The alternatives developed in the SLDFRE EIS and other recently proposed drainage plans (refer to appendix A for details) differ from the strategies proposed by the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Program (1990a). The Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) in March 2007 signed a record of decision for an in-valley disposal option that would retire 194,000 acres of land, build 1,900 acres of evaporation ponds, and develop a treatment system to remove salt and selenium from drainwater. The recently proposed SLU Plans emphasize pumping drainage to the surface, storing approximately 33% in agricultural water re-use areas, treating selenium through biotechnology, enhancing the evaporation of water to concentrate salt, and identifying ultimate storage facilities for the remaining approximately 67% of waste selenium and salt. The treatment sequence of reuse, reverse osmosis, selenium bio-treatment, and enhanced solar evaporation is unprecedented and untested at the scale needed to meet plan requirements.
All drainage management strategies that have been proposed seek to reduce the amount of drainage water produced. One approach is to reduce the amount of drainage per irrigated acre. From modeling simulations performed for the SLDFRE EIS of the Westlands Area of the SLU, theoretical minimums that can be achieved range from approximately 0.16 to 0.25 acre-feet per acre per year (AF/acre/year). Minimum production rates from the Northerly Area of the SLU are theorized as being much higher, approximately 0. 42 to 0.28 AF/acre/year. Rates shown in the SLU Plans for drained acres from the two areas combined are 0.5 AF/acre/year at the subsurface drain stage and 0.37 AF/acre/year after a series of on-farm and regional measures are instituted.
Land retirement is a key strategy to reduce drainage because it can effectively reduce drainage to zero if all drainage-impaired lands are retired. Land retirement alternatives considered in the SLDFRE EIS differ for the two areas analyzed in the SLU. The Northerly Area is to retire a nominal 10,000 acres and Westlands is to retire up to 300,000 acres. The initial land retirement option recently put forth in the SLU Plans predicted drainage volume reductions that are consistent with 200,000 acres of land retirement, but only 100,000 acres of land retirement was proposed.
Within the proposed area of drainage there are, for all practical purposes, unlimited reservoirs of selenium and salt stored within the aquifers and soils of the valley and upslope in the Coast Ranges. Salt imported in irrigation water is estimated to be at least 1.5 million tons per year for the Westlands and Northerly Areas (SJVDIP, 1998). Analysis of the land retirement alternatives presented in the SLDFRE EIS indicates that land retirement of a minimum of only 100,000 acres results in the annual pumping to the surface of 20,142 pounds of selenium or about a million pounds of selenium over a 50 year period. Retiring 200,000 acres results in an annual pumping of 14,750 pounds of selenium; and reti