April 26, 2016

Water Board Issues Draft Order on Waste Discharge for Irrigated Land

The State Water Resources Control Board (the “Board”) issued a Draft Order revising the Eastern San Joaquin Agricultural Coalition’s General Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR). The WDR is part of the Boards’ Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program to address discharges of waste from irrigated agriculture. These revisions are in response to three petitions the State Water Board received challenging the coalition’s WDR.

The Draft Order would directly affect growers who are enrolled in the coalition, and would also give direction to the Central Valley Water Board and the other Regional Water Boards throughout the state to update their irrigated lands regulatory programs to be consistent with the proposed order. The Draft Order has significant implications for irrigated agriculture statewide.  

WG staff believes the Draft Order goes beyond recommendations from the statutorily mandated Nitrogen Tracking Task Force and Agricultural Expert Panel, and incorporates the Board’s own judgment.  

The Board will hold a workshop to take public comment on the Draft Order on May 4, 2016, in Sacramento. Additionally, it will host another workshop on May 17, 2016, in Fresno. Growers are encouraged to attend.

Written comments on the proposed order are due May 18. WG will testify at the workshop and provide written comments. Information on the comment period and public workshop can be found at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/public_notices/petitions/water_quality/docs/a2239/second_revised_transmittal.pdf

Under the Draft Order:

  • All farmers enrolled in the coalition would have to participate in outreach events, update their farm evaluation annually, have certified Nitrogen Management Plans (NMP), and submit NMP summary reports to the coalition. Previously this was only required for growers in high vulnerability areas.
  • The farm evaluation checklist of management practices would be expanded and would include two additional questions about coalition notifications to enrolled growers: 1) Did the coalition notify you of having a higher than average nitrogen application value?, and 2) Did they notify you of being in a surface or groundwater management area?
  • Information identifying farmers’ method of irrigation (i.e. surface, sprinkler, drip) would be added as part of the Nitrogen Management Plan and, therefore, renamed the Irrigation and Nitrogen Management Plan (INMP). The proposed order would continue to require reporting of the amount of nitrogen applied and removed on a field-by-field basis, but would revise the specific types of measurements that would be reported.
  • The coalition will be required to provide the data submitted by its growers to the Central Valley Water Board (the Nitrogen Task Force recommended that only aggregated data should be submitted).
  • Each farm will be required to monitor its drinking water wells.  

‘Nitrogen removed’ is calculated from the total amount of crop material removed from the field. The information needed to calculate the amount of removed nitrogen is not currently available for many crops. Therefore, until more research is done, ‘nitrogen removed’ would not initially be required to be reported. Instead, farmers would report their crop yield to estimate ‘nitrogen removed.’  

The coalition would analyze the Farm Evaluation data and INMP Summary Report data submitted and work with those growers that may need to develop management practices to improve nitrogen and irrigation efficiency. The coalition would be required to electronically submit all individual data and data analyses to the Central Valley Water Board. Initially the coalition would annually submit the individual data for crop years 2016 through 2018 to the Central Valley Water Board in May of 2019 and for each subsequent year.   

The Draft Order concludes that the Central Valley Water Board should develop acceptable multi-year nitrogen applied/removed (A/R) ratio ranges, and to do so, the Central Valley Water Board should receive all of the A/R ratio data. This process for calculating acceptable multi-year A/R ratio ranges would be based on grower-reported data, rather than estimates or numbers derived through isolated studies.  

The Draft Order would implement provisions that are applicable to Central Coast growers, and would require Members to monitor all drinking water supply wells on their property. If monitoring results show that the groundwater exceeds the water quality objectives for nitrate (equivalent to the drinking water standard for nitrate), then the Member or Third Party would be required to notify users of the exceedance. The Third Party would be required to submit these monitoring results for drinking water supply wells to the Regional Water Board in the Annual Monitoring Report.

The Board also states its intention not to withhold information on the exact locations of drinking water supply wells. Further, the Draft Order encourages Regional Water Boards to use their authority to require replacement water where the groundwater exceeds the nitrate drinking water standard.

The Draft Order can be found at: 

If you have any questions, please contact Gail Delihant at (916) 446-1435.