Projects Funded for Nigel Quinn


Cooperative and Market Approaches to Regional Salinity Nonpoint Pollution Control: Application to the San Joaquin Valley (SJV), California

  • Nigel Quinn
  • Ariel Dinar


Specific Objectives of the Project:
The overall objective of this research project is to analytically and empirically address nonpoint salinity pollution from agricultural activities by simulating a market framework for pollution permits and other regional cooperative arrangements between agricultural growers (polluters) and regulatory agencies aimed at controlling pollution to a water body (e.g., river, aquifer). That framework will then be applied to the case of salinity management in the San Joaquin Valley, California.

Specific objectives include:

1. Develop an analytical framework for quantifying, comparing and prioritizing policy interventions aimed at regulating nonpoint salinity pollution from irrigated agriculture.
2. Apply the analytical framework, developed under objective (2) to the case of the San Joaquin River Basin, California where agricultural producers are constrained by regulations that limit their ability to farm, leading occasionally to non-compliance with these regulations.
2.1 Compare several regional settings: including a status quo without regulation; a cap and trade of salinity pollution; and several cooperative arrangements among agricultural producers and between the agricultural producers and the regulating agency.
2.2 Introducing information and data sharing equipment to allow calculation of the value of information to the polluters and to the regulatory agency.

Summary of Results:
This project presents an alternative approach to salt regulation and control that follows first attempts to implement the 2002 TMDL, when it was realized that TMDL policy objectives could not be achieved without potential annual costs to stakeholders in the millions of dollars annually, using typical penalty schedules for daily exceedance of a 30-day running average EC objective at a single downstream compliance site. These costs would have potentially risen with the inclusion of two additional upstream compliance monitoring sites adopted to protect agricultural riparian diverters from high salt concentrations in irrigation applied water.

The novel concept of “Real-Time Water Quality management” relies on a continually updated forecasting model to provide daily estimates of salt load assimilative capacity in the San Joaquin River and assessments of compliance with salinity concentration objectives at three monitoring sites on the river, based on the 30-day running average EC. A water quality forecasting model WARMF was developed as part of this alternative regulatory schema, which served both as a compliance forecasting tool and the means by which salt load allocations and salt exports from each of the seven contributing subareas could be estimated and compared. The trading of salt loads between subareas is now feasible as both the regulatory salt load allocation and actual salt load discharge to the river can be quantified.

The results of the study have shown that the policy combination of well-crafted river salinity objectives by the regulator and the application of an easy-to use and maintain decision support tool by stakeholders have succeeded in minimizing water quality (salinity) exceedances over a 20-year study period. The WARMF model improvements, and consequent increase in stakeholder and agency confidence in this decision support tool, suggest its potential application in other river basins facing similar challenges. Our framework allows farmers and regulators to jointly understand and evaluate the meaning of various regulatory policy interventions on the emission of salinity and on the cost to be incurred by farmers at various locations along the river. The results support the development of close collaboration between farmers and regulators in the application of non-point source pollution policy. The results also suggest significant benefit from better cooperation and coordination among and between farmers and other dischargers of salt load who rely on the river for drainage disposal and who are already organized into sensible subareas for salt management. This can provide a cost-effective pathway for agricultural sustainability.