A new tax on agricultural fertilizers, a new tax on food sold at retail and a new fee on all water users are at the center of a report issued yesterday to the Legislature by the State Water Resources Control Board that proposes numerous responses to nitrate in groundwater in two of the state’s most productive farm regions.
The report was mandated by 2008 legislation that directed the Water Board to develop pilot projects focusing on nitrate in groundwater in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley. The report identifies nitrate pollution in groundwater as a widespread water quality problem that can pose serious health risks to pregnant women and infants if consumed at concentrations above the maximum contaminant level (mcl) of 45 milligrams per liter.
In developing this report, the Water Board contracted with UC Davis to produce a study, which was released last year. That study asserted that 96 percent of the nitrate present in groundwater in the Salinas Valley and Tulare Lake Basin came from decades of agricultural fertilizer applications and dairy operations. WG and others challenged several aspects of the UC Davis study but the State Water Board accepted the study in total.
The State Water Board report, “Recommendations Addressing Nitrate in Groundwater,” was produced with input from the Department of Public Health, the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Environmental Protection Agency and local environmental health agencies. Some recommendations came from a task force convened by the governor’s office to address safe drinking water issues in which Western Growers staff participated. That task force did not propose fertilizer fees or other mandates on farmers.
While WG can support several of the 15 recommendations in the report, several cause serious concerns. These include:
- Fee (tax) on nitrogen fertilizers
- Point-of-sale fee (tax) on agricultural commodities
- “Developing and implementing a nitrogen mass balance tracking and reporting system to manage the application of nitrogen fertilizing materials.” This may translate to state regulation of fertilizer use and reporting.
- Requiring farmers to pay for replacement drinking water in affected communities.
Most of the State Water Board’s recommendations will require a source of funding. Although farmers are paying for monitoring, education and research through the current regulatory irrigated lands programs, the level of effort and vast expansion of programs this report has outlined will require a substantial increase in funds.
WG staff is analyzing the report, which is expected to propel several bills in the Legislature.
The full report can be found at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/nitrate_project/index.shtml
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