Pamela Creedon, executive officer of the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board, sat down recently with Cindy Paulson, senior vice president at Brown and Caldwell, to talk about how California's diverse water stakeholders can work together better, and how her agency is working to help meet the state's challenges. This interview is available exclusively to BC Water News readers, and is the type of content you receive free with your subscription. Read and enjoy.
May 15, 2012

10 Minutes With …

Pamela Creedon

What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities in California water today?
In terms of water quality, some of the greatest challenges we have right now are dealing with nitrate contamination of our drinking water sources and, more importantly, the salt issues we have throughout the entire Central Valley.

The challenge we face today is how do we balance the environmental needs, the people needs and the quality needs, coupled with the added complexity of the changing climate and the impact that could have on the availability of water.

The complexity of it all is one of our greatest challenges, but it also could be one of our greatest opportunities if we can change the dynamic and the management structure of our water in terms of public safety for flooding, providing water for our purveyors and protecting our environment and water quality.

How do the regional and state boards fit, and how might they work together better to face new challenges?
Part of what Iíve been doing over the last few years is elevating awareness about the Central Valley Board and what we do. We encompass the entire Sacramento and San Joaquin river drainage areas, and the Tulare Lake Basin. Almost the entire Delta is within the Central Valley jurisdictional area. So if you think of where the water is in California, the Central Valley Board plays a critical role in making sure that the quality of our source waters are protected and available for people and other uses.

There are many different agencies involved in the management of water and we play a critical role. I think weíve been sort of this sleeping giant for so long and now our role is being elevated into other areas like the California Water Plan. Weíve been pushing ourselves more and more into these discussions over time. Itís a lot of ground to cover.

What do you see as the top priorities for your agency over the next few years? The next decade?
Our two top priorities right now are: the Delta, of course, and groundwater nitrate pollution in the Valley. In the Delta, we are implementing the appropriate protection and control through TMDLs or permits or other types of measures. In the immediate future, we are getting a regional monitoring plan in place for the Delta and also for the San Joaquin River. In dealing with the nitrate pollution, we are implementing our irrigated lands program and moving it into the next phase by adding regulations to protect groundwater quality from ag. We are also implementing and moving forward our dairy regulatory program and developing a Central Valley salinity and nitrate management plan for the board. Those are our immediate projects.

Youíve been very involved with Central Valley Salinity Alternatives for Long Term Sustainability (CV-SALTS) to promote better management of salt and nitrate in the Central Valley. Can you give us an overview of what they are trying to accomplish and the expected impact?
CV-SALTS is an initiative that we started in earnest in 2006. It created an extensive, comprehensive stakeholder process, out of which will come a new regulatory program that will be implemented through our basin plans. It involves reviewing uses of our surface and groundwaters, reviewing objectives for salt for those water bodies and providing an implementation plan. Out of this will come a salt-nitrate management plan that will be implemented through our two basin plans and possibly the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary Water Quality Control plans. We consider anyone who uses Central Valley waters ó surface water or groundwater ó a stakeholder, and they are probably going to be very interested in this new regulatory program being developed.

As for the timeline, we set an eight- to 10-year time period in 2006. We are projecting taking a basin plan amendment to the board in 2014, or an eight-year schedule. Iím willing to relax this schedule to nine or 10 years, so long as we show adequate progress. The trainís moving for this effort. The documentís being developed. The policy is being drafted. Waiting to weigh in until 2014 is way too late. Weíre now at a point where weíre really starting to talk about policy and really tough things that people are going to be sorry they missed out on if they donít participate. The nitrate issue is a problem thatís going to be around for a while, but itís a problem we can deal with. The salt issue is a much more difficult dilemma to manage. Without getting a comprehensive salt plan in place throughout the entire Central Valley, we could in the future see some devastating effects on our irrigated lands in the Valley. If we wait too long, we may not be able to recover.

Another groundbreaking initiative youíve been involved with is the Central Valley Drinking Water Policy. How will that affect future protection of drinking water supplies?
This is really a drinking water policy for the Delta; however, considering how many people receive their drinking water from the Delta, it could almost be a California drinking water policy. I view what is being developed as a phased approach, a first step. I think some of the efforts and requirements that will come out of this policy will get us on the right track around how we can better protect the drinking water use in the Delta. Iím happy that weíre coming to some closure around that, and getting it into a basin plan so that we can start developing a true regulatory program around it. We need to stop talking about some of this stuff, get it into a proper policy and in our basin plan, because, the basin plan is where I have the best authority to implement and enforce our policies. The sooner we get it into our basin plan, the sooner we can start developing some programs and requirements around it.

There are many stakeholders and agencies in California water resource management today. How do you think we can take the biggest steps forward together?
You know, when Iím not doing my day job, I serve as an officer with the Environment Water Resources Institute, Sacramento chapter, through the American Society of Civil Engineers. We have held symposiums every year with a focus on water in California. A lot of my fellow officers in the EWRI group deal with water resources and management. Our symposiums have focused on our frustration around this issue of water in California and how we bring it together, while recognizing the uniqueness and the need for local management of water resources and the need for a better overarching institutional control at the state level. Part of our ability to do something has to start over in the Capitol to help us better structure a more cohesive management approach.

Water in California is very controversial, but how much energy do we really want to put into fighting one another? Letís see if we canít build more bridges. Thatís been my M.O. since the day that I stepped into this job: How can I get these diverse groups to come together and talk to one another? And how can we all accomplish our goals? Of course, you canít talk about accomplishing goals unless you truly understand what all the goals are. Unfortunately, I donít know if weíve ever had that type of dialogue between the various groups. Itís been more of a battlefield revolving around water, but it appears to be changing some.

As a water quality regulatory board, we are charged with protecting all uses for a water body and we all know thatís an almost impossible task. Itís a balancing act thatís almost impossible to do. And yet, when you get people into a room, if they put away their guns, so to speak, put away their individual agendas and stop talking about suing one another, you could come up with some pretty viable solutions and steps to move forward. A growing number of people are willing to sit down and talk; however, there are still those who have very strong opinions from certain sectors that arenít going to bend, ever. We can’t let them run the effort. We canít move forward if we continue to be so polarized on these issues. We just canít.

We also work in silos. We act as if the Delta is separate and unique, and yet it is part of an overarching system that canít be broken out and handled individually. Our water system is like the body: You canít affect one part of your body without feeling it somewhere else. Thatís the way we should look at our water system, as a whole system that needs to be addressed and understand where we have some flexibilities and where we donít. I agree with local management of water through something such as regional management areas; however, it has to be brought into the context of one big large body and addressed from that perspective as opposed to individual regions or silos ó as if weíre separate and unique and donít have to work together. Itís all the same water.

If you could change one thing about California water policy, what would it be?
Integration. Recognition of the whole system. And the dynamic nature of the whole system.

Whatís something people might be surprised to know about your agency?
How much and how diverse our workload is. Every year, I give a review to the board of all the activities my staff worked on. I canít tell you how many times people come up to me after my presentation expressing how shocked they are at how much work we do, all the different programs, all the waters weíre charged with protecting, and how busy we really are trying to implement programs that, at the end of the day, will result in our resources being protected. We cover a lot of ground. We really do.

Whatís the most significant project youíve been involved with in your career?
Right now, CV-SALTS, because of its size and complexity. Particularly the nitrate pollution issue and trying to get clean drinking water to our small communities in the Valley. Thatís a very important and significant project for me.

Whatís the one thing you canít live without at work?
Well, I could live without my Blackberry, but not my staff! I'm grateful to have such an excellent group of professionals working for me.


Pamela Creedon

Name: Pamela Creedon

Title: Executive Officer

Background: A licensed civil engineer and a board-certified environmental engineer, Pamela has more than 29 years of professional experience, including more than 19 years in both the public and private sector developing and implementing water quality regulatory programs.

She holds a bachelor of science and master of science in civil engineering from California State University, Sacramento. She is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Tau Beta Pi.

Pamela serves on the American Society of Civil Engineers National Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee, and the CSU Sacramento Environmental and Water Resources Advisory Committee. She is on the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Chapter of the Environmental & Water Resources Institute (SCEWRI) of the American Society of Civil Engineers, as well as the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Estuary Institute Aquatic Science Center.

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