March 16, 2012
After years of hearings and delays—due partly to the contentiousness of regulating agricultural runoff, and partly to lacking a quorum—the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board voted 6-0 Thursday to approve stricter rules for growers.
The board left extended the timeline for compliance, and left open the possibility of modifying the rules at a later date.
But the newly approved ag waiver rejects an alternative path proposed by Farmer for Water Quality, a coalition of Central Coast ag interests. Most recently, they commissioned CSUMB Professor Marc Los Huertos to offer up an alternative designed to encourage continued improvements without singling out individual growers.
This is an approach lawmakers lined up to support, including U.S. Congressman Sam Farr, D-Carmel, who appeared in person to testify before the Regional Water Board in San Luis Obispo on Wednesday and State Senator Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo.
The ag alternative would have allowed for continued third-party monitoring of growers, but reporting data only in aggregate to avoid penalizing specific farms and protecting proprietary information. Ag's been highly critical of of a tiered system, as was adopted Thursday, for holding farms with the highest nitrogen loads, certain pesticides and certain sizes to tougher standards.
"These landscape problems are not solved by a very heavy-handed law enforcement-type approach," said Alec Arago, an aide to Farr, at a listening session held in Salinas Feb. 1. "What's happened here is an example of how not to try to solve the problem."
The decision came two days after UC Davis researchers released a study on increased nitrate contamination in groundwater.
Both environmental groups as well agricultural organizations are left feeling like they made concessions and are expected to appeals to the State Water Board. There's already one pending lawsuit filed by Monterey Coastkeeper regarding the long delay and the adequacy of the old ag waiver, and both sides have indicated they'll consider litigating the new rules.