October 17, 2019

CA Water Board Requires Farmers to Curb Fertilizer Use 10 Years Sooner

Yesterday, the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted a resolution approving the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s amendments to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Basin Plan and the Tulare Lake Basin Plan to incorporate a Central Valley-wide Salt and Nitrate Control Program. With the approval, Central Valley farmers are now required to stop their fertilizer discharges that exceed the drinking water standard within 35 years, rather than 45 years.

The original Water Board staff proposal would have given users in the Sacramento River, San Joaquin River and Tulare Lake basins up to 45 years to develop and implement management practices that would curb nitrate discharges. However, during the meeting yesterday, the Board voted to reduce the timeline by 10 years, arguing that 35 years should be a sufficient amount of time to implement methods or develop technological solutions to reduce nitrates. This was despite the fact that Board member Dorene D’Adamo insisted that 35 years would not be enough time.

“What I fully expect is that I’m going to hear from agriculture, saying ‘What are you guys thinking?’ and it’s going to be another nail in the coffin on people in the industry saying farming in California just doesn’t make any sense,” said D’Adamo yesterday during the meeting.

The Salt and Nitrate Control Program provides a new framework for the Regional Water Board to regulate salt and nitrate, while also ensuring short-term and long-term safe drinking water supplies. The amendments represent the most significant changes in decades to the regulation of salts and nitrates in the surface and ground waters of Central Valley. With these amendments, the Regional Water Board will be able to ensure safe drinking water in affected areas and offer greater flexibility for discharger compliance.

From here, Management Zones will need to be formed so that all permitted dischargers participating in the management zone collectively work to meet the goals of the nitrate control program. 

The Central Valley Water Board will ensure that affected residents in localized areas within management zones with nitrate concentrations exceeding 10 mg/L (“hot spots”) are identified and provided access to drinking water through Early Action Plans and Management Zone Implementation Plans.

Western Growers staff will continue to stay involved in implementation of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund as well as the development of plans that are intended to implement the Basin Plan Amendments.

For more information please contact Gail Delihant at (916) 446-1435.