Groundwater Regulations Taking Shape
Central Valley growers got their final shot in August at shaping groundwater regulations for the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition (eastside coalition) region. The Regional Water Board on July 6 released a public review draft of the “General Order” that spells out new requirements for the eastside coalition. Comments were due August 6.
This coalition is the first of seven agricultural third-party entities working through the process of developing individual General Orders or Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) over the next two years. Each coalition’s Order will be voted on individually by the sitting Water Board with a vote on the eastside coalition set for October 4, 2012.
A Regional Board workshop on June 7 focused on the draft eastside coalition order revealed that Board members want to see a program that has accountability but is not overly burdensome for farmers. Community water activists are pushing for reporting of individual farm and fertilizing practices while farmers counter that the proposed reporting requirements create excessive paperwork with little improvement in water quality.
The draft WDR and workshop are the culmination of more than five years of activities devoted to developing what is called the Long Term Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP). A programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was adopted by the Regional Board in June 2011, setting the stage for drafting the WDRs by Regional Water Board staff. Agricultural organizations got a preview in
2010 of what the WDR might contain when the Regional Board and stakeholders developed five potential options or approaches for the comprehensive regulations (WCN Spring 2010 issue). The draft WDRs now being considered take elements from each of those options.
As expected, legal action has already been taken against the programmatic EIR by activist and farm groups. California Sport Fisherman’s Alliance (CSPA) filed an action in superior court, demanding that the EIR be invalidated and that all future actions be stopped until the EIR is revised and recirculated. In their lawsuit, CSPA argues that the EIR and the existing Conditional Waiver are inadequate because they fail to require individual farm reporting and individual farm monitoring. CSPA continues to argue that the coalitions are inappropriate in the role that they play and that there should be more direct, public reporting between individual growers and the Regional Board.
While the Regional Board claimed that each coalition would develop WDRs unique to their geography and conditions, documents released so far are for the most part identical to the eastside coalition WDR. The administrative draft for the South San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition released on July 7 had no substantial differences in key requirements for coalition members compared to the eastside coalition draft WDR. All other Central Valley Coalitions will be receiving initial draft WDR documents before the end of 2012. Aug. 28, 2012 CURES Newsletter