Regulation of Perchlorate at Low Levels in Drinking Water: A High Stakes Decision

Potential impacts of unnecessarily strict drinking water standards

If California or U.S. EPA establish drinking water standards for perchlorate that are overly restrictive, (i.e., is more restrictive than what credible science says is necessary to protect public health) the costs to citizens, government, industry and agriculture potentially could be staggering. These costs could include building new water treatment facilities, retrofitting existing treatment systems, buying additional water to dilute affected systems and imposing drought-time restrictions on water use. Other undesirable possible consequences include:

  • Public health needs suffer: Overly strict perchlorate standards would force local governments to divert scarce financial resources from genuine public health needs.
  • Water shortages: Putting water "off limits" if it has low levels of perchlorate - despite the fact that credible science shows these low levels have no measurable health effects - will cause needless water shortages for consumers and farmers.
  • Diverting water from Northern California: Most water supplies for San Diego, Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties, as well as eastern Los Angeles cannot meet an overly restrictive drinking water standard without significant blending with unaffected water supplies or costly treatment. Trace amounts of perchlorate (measuring 4 ppb to 10 ppb, well within "no-effect" levels) have been found in the Colorado River, which provides water for drinking and agricultural uses in Southern California. Water may have to be diverted from the Northern California Delta and other sources in the north to Southern California.
  • Impacts on farmers: Farmers may be forced to abandon farming of vegetable crops in the agriculturally rich Imperial Valley and other areas in California where water containing trace amounts of perchlorate is used to irrigate crops. This could mean loss of farm products and jobs, and closure of local agricultural businesses. If farmers cannot sell their crops due to unfounded fears over perchlorate, taxpayers may have to provide additional federal financial support and the U.S. Department of Agriculture could possibly face adverse impacts on farm exports.
  • Impacts on federal government, taxpayers: The costs associated with an overly strict regulatory standard would be significant at the federal level. For example, NASA and the Department of Defense are already working to clean up perchlorate at some sites. An overly strict standard could potentially double NASA's cleanup costs and add significant costs to the Department of Defense's cleanup efforts. Worse, an overly strict standard could contribute to additional military base closures in California, as bases become unusable for rocket and missile testing or combat training with live fire.

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