Clean Farms Clean Water Campaign Fact Sheet
Pollution is not free, someone always pays: if not the polluter, then the victims in their health, pocketbook or degraded environment.
Runoff from irrigated agriculture is identified as the largest source of pollution to Central Valley waterways and the Delta. Pollution is identified as one of the principle causes of the collapse of Central Valley fisheries. Agricultural activities are also the major source of groundwater pollution.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) has released its proposed framework and Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) for a long-term program regulating pollutant discharges from some six million acres of irrigated farmland in the Central Valley.
Comments on the Framework are due 21 March 2011. Comments on the PEIR will be accepted through the close of the hearing, scheduled for 7 April 2011.
Between 1982 and 2003, irrigated agriculture was exempt from water quality regulations applicable to virtually every other segment of society: from municipalities to industry to mom-&-pop businesses.
In 2003, following lawsuits and legislation, the Regional Board established a “conditional waiver” program to regulate farm pollution. However, political pressure led the Regional Board to cede implementation of the program to industry “coalitions” who were required to enroll farms, educate farmers and conduct limited monitoring.
Since individual farmers are exempted from requirements to monitor discharges or disclose what efforts are being taken to reduce pollution, the Regional Board doesn’t know who is actually discharging, what pollutants being discharged, the localized impacts, whether management measures (BMPs) have been implemented to reduce pollution or if implemented BMPs are effective.
As a result, after eight years of “conditional waivers,” the Regional Board cannot identify any reduction in pollutant loading or any single measure that has been implemented to reduce or eliminate pollution. Monitoring reveals that virtually all sites downstream of agricultural areas exceed water quality standards: 63% are toxic, 54% exceed pesticide standards (often for multiple pesticides), 66% violate metals criterion, 87% exceed pathogen standards and more than 80% exceed standards for general parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, total suspended solids, salts, etc).
As water quality laws can only be enforced against identified dischargers, these “legally fictitious” coalitions have effectively shielded farmers and allowed them to escape meaningful regulation.
The Regional Board now proposes to essentially continue this failed approach into the foreseeable future. The present “waiver” will be continued for three years, during which the Regional Board will develop a series or orders addressing various approaches that are consistent with the proposed framework.
As proposed, the program will continue to be directed by industry coalitions. The elements of the program will not require individual farmers to monitor their discharges or reveal if they’ve implemented measures to reduce pollution. Requirements will remain unenforceable and inconsistent with the state’s non-point source and antidegradation policies. And, inexplicably, the Regional Board says it’s free to add, delete or modify any or all of the elements of the plan, so the public doesn’t really know the requirements of the final program.
The current irrigated lands waive expires 30 June 2011 and cannot be extended but must be reissued.
CSPA believes that irrigated agriculture must comply with reasonable requirements to control pollution that include:
1. Elimination of third party coalitions and requirements that individual dischargers submit reports to the Regional Board identifying the location and content of discharges to both surface water and groundwater,
2. Preparation of individual farm water quality management plans that identify measures implemented to reduce pollution. These plans must be made available to the Regional Board and the public,
3. Monitoring of discharges to surface water and groundwater and the effectiveness of measures implemented to reduce pollution,
4. Compliance with water quality standards in the near-term; not some uncertain distant future,
5. Consistency with the state’s non-point source and antidegradation policies.