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Developing a Decision Support System for Regional Agricultural Nonpoint Salinity Pollution Management: Application to the San Joaquin River, California

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Environmental problems and production losses associated with irrigated agriculture, such as salinity, degradation of receiving waters, such as rivers, and deep percolation of saline water to aquifers, highlight water-quality concerns that require a paradigm shift in resource-management policy. New tools are needed to assist environmental managers in developing sustainable solutions to these problems, given the nonpoint source nature of salt loads to surface water and groundwater from irrigated agriculture. Equity issues arise in distributing responsibility and costs to the generators of this source of pollution. This paper describes an alternative approach to salt regulation and control using the concept of “Real-Time Water Quality management”. The approach relies on a continually updateable WARMF (Watershed Analysis Risk Management Framework) 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 key monitoring sites on the river. The results of the study showed 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.

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