Lawsuit pushes for ag water rule: Environmentalists say state board was wrong to delay implementation

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA), December 1, 2012
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Environmental groups are seeking to force state officials to implement strict rules for farm water runoff with a lawsuit filed Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court.
The lawsuit alleges the state Water Resources Control Board acted unlawfully when, in September, it delayed reporting and monitoring regulations approved earlier this year by a regional water board.
The regulations, imposed by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, are designed to keep agricultural pollutants out of waterways and drinking water supplies.
“To ignore public monitoring and reporting requirements is inviting the fox into the henhouse,” said Steve Shimek, executive director of the Otter Project, in a press release. “The regulatory agencies and public will have no idea if growers are doing anything to control their pollution.”
Spokesman Tim Moran said the state water board’s lawyer had yet to receive a copy of the lawsuit and so couldn’t comment. He said the legal counsel also noted that the state board is reviewing petitions related to the regulations, and “will continue to review those petitions to resolve the important public health, environmental and public policy claims raised in them.”
The issue has been debated for more than three years. On one side are environmentalists and social justice advocates seeking protection for community water supplies and wildlife. On the other are growers, who say they want to clean up water but question the expense and effectiveness of the regional board’s approach.
After the regional board approved the regulations in March, both sides petitioned the state board for reconsideration. Environmentalists wanted tougher rules on the discharge of toxic nitrates; farmers were looking for a more substantial overhaul.
The regulations call for farms to adopt water quality plans and show their effectiveness. The regulatory program mandates adoption of water quality plans by individual farms and specific results. It uses a system of tiers to focus most closely on large farms using specific pesticides, growing crops with high nitrogen loads and operating near polluted waterways.
Farmers favor a coalition-based projects, measurable improvements and independent monitoring and evaluation.

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