On the evening of September 24, the State Water Resources Control Board finalized their revisions to the Central Coast Ag Order after a long appeal process initiated by agricultural organizations representing growers in the region. The final version of the State Order, as it was adopted on Tuesday, is not yet available. Western Growers and other parties will be working to quickly summarize and communicate key changes made since the September 9, 2013 draft.
On a high level, this process has resulted in some positive changes to the Central Coast Order, including the elimination of nutrient ratios, and clarification of the portions of the irrigation and nutrient management plan (INMP- applies to Tier 3 growers) that can remain on-farm instead of being reported; clarifying aspects of individual surface water monitoring requirements; and demonstrating compliance with the provisions in 84-87 through good faith efforts to implement management practices and/or improved practices.
Significantly, the State Board has clearly articulated support and preference for third party programs to assist in monitoring and improving water quality in the Central Coast region. A small window has been opened for new groundwater monitoring programs, but applications for such programs must be submitted by November 1, 2014. Applications to join an existing program must be submitted by November 1, 2014; however, for those that are not covered by a currently approved cooperative groundwater program, individuals must still complete the first two rounds of monitoring by the March 2014 deadline. For those in Tier 3, if they joined a cooperative program, they would not have to continue to conduct annual monitoring.
There are negatives to the adopted order as well. Some of the losses include: new requirements to report nitrogen concentration and load in irrigation water; provide notification to users of domestic water if monitoring shows that it exceeds the MCL and that growers still are required to conduct individual surface water monitoring. Also, the tiered structure remains. The content of the Annual Compliance Form for Tier II and III farms and nitrate reporting for high nitrate crops was also changed, but a modified version will not be available until late October so growers should file the existing form for the report due on October 1, 2013.
While the legal effort has reached a milestone, WG anticipates continued efforts on the part of activists to establish stricter controls on agriculture and including additional challenges to the State Board ruling. As Western Growers analyzes the final ruling, we will examine aspects of the State Board action on the Central Coast order to identify policy signals for other regions and that may assist in our continued efforts to work cooperatively with the Central Coast and State Board to improve regional water quality programs so that they accomplish key state and regional goals and keep agriculture in these areas viable and competitive.
Link to The Salinas Californian news story on the State Water Board actions.
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