After a marathon hearing, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an order revising agricultural requirements for the East San Joaquin River watershed on February 7. This order adds additional reporting requirements, many of which set precedents for other irrigated lands programs throughout the state.
The order affects growers who are members of the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition. However, it also sets precedents for other regions and directs the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and other regional boards to update their irrigated lands regulatory programs to be consistent with the order. Revisions will need to be made regarding the contents and frequency of reporting requirements, as well as new reporting on potential groundwater loading from nitrogen fertilizer use and targets for groundwater quality.
State board staff had released numerous drafts of the order before its final adoption. Each draft included improvements based primarily on oral and written comments by many growers, agricultural groups and Western Growers staff.
The East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition Order mandates the following:
- Revises the way nitrogen application is recorded, analyzed and reported, now tracking nitrogen applied in all forms and nitrogen removed at harvest.
- Requires farmers, starting in 2019, to report nitrogen application data and management practices to the regional water board on a field-by-field basis. In an effort to provide anonymity, a unique, anonymous member identification number will be associated with field-level data. The previous versions of the order required growers to report management practices and nitrogen application information by field/ranch and identified growers by name.
- Requires farmers to monitor and report nitrate levels in on-farm drinking water wells, if they are not already required to do so. Growers are required to notify users of the well water if results exceed the nitrate drinking water standard. This requirement begins in 2019.
- Imposes the same nitrogen-reporting requirements in areas considered low vulnerability for impacts to groundwater and for areas considered high vulnerability, with some exceptions. This mandate goes into effect in 2021.
Many of the precedential requirements would have been extremely difficult for Central Coast farmers to implement. However, after several meetings between water board members, Central Coast growers and representatives and Western Growers staff, some language in the order was changed to reflect the differences between farming practices in the Central Coast and the Central Valley.
Due to the fact that each area of the state has unique differences, the need for “flexibility” for other regional boards was stressed. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board intends to reopen and revise the other Central Valley agricultural programs by the end of this year.