From IndyBay.org, “Water Board delays decision on agricultural water pollution proposal” by Dan Bacher, 8 Apr 2011.
“Today, this board cannot quantify a single molecule of pollution that has been presented, a single BMP that has been implemented or a single management measure that has been effective,” said Bill Jennings, executive director/chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
Water Board delays decision on agricultural water pollution proposal
The Regional Water Quality Board of the Central Valley Region on April 7 decided to not take action on a controversial proposal to establish long-term surface water and groundwater regulations for irrigated farmland.
They did vote to approve an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the plan during the long, contentious meeting that ran from 9 a.m. to past 8 p.m. at the board’s office’s in Rancho Cordova.
The board is slated to consider the proposal again during its three-day meeting beginning June 8, according to Pamela Creedon, the board’s executive officer.
Fishermen, environmental justice advocates and farmworkers showed in force to oppose the proposal that will continue to address water pollution regulations through voluntary coalitions, a strategy that they say has failed miserably.
“Eight years ago, I testified before this board that the proposed 2003 conditional waiver was seriously flawed and would fail to improve water quality,” said Bill Jennings, executive director/chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “Today, this board cannot quantify a single molecule of pollution that has been prevented, a single BMP that has been implemented or a single management measure that has been effective.”
In the late 1990’s, lawyer Mike Lozeau and Jennings prepared the initial petition, filed the initial lawsuit and wrote the legislation that, as chartered, sunset the existing 1982 waivers.
Jennings cited the board’s own report acknowledging that virtually all monitored sites downstream of agricultural areas have violated water quality standards. Sixty-three percent experienced toxicity (50 percent) for multiple species, pesticides were exceeded at more than half the sites, often for multiple pesticides, metals violated criteria at 66 percent, pathogens at 87 percent and more 80 percent of the sites violated general parameters.
“The proposed Framework is ineffective,” emphasized Jennings. “Under it, the Board can’t know, on a site-specific basis, who is discharging, what or how much is being discharged, localized impacts, if BMPs have been implemented or if implemented BMPs are effective.”
The proposed regulations classify irrigated farmland into three categories (tiers) based on the threat of contamination. Tier 1 land poses a low threat, Tier 2 has one or more more unknown threats and Tier 3 has one or more consituents that pose a high thread. The farms with the highest threats to groundwater would be required to take steps to reduce fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, pathogens and other agricultural discharge.
Growers representing the irrigator coalitions supported the existing coalitions, claiming they were working, and opposed any stricter regulations.
Perry Klassen of the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition showed the board charts showing the decline in use of two pesticides, diazinon and chlorpyrifos. “I believe that the coalition appoach is working,” he said.
David Orth of the South San Joaquin Water Coalition pointed to a “record of success.” “We have good faith participation in the current program and the scoping of long range alternatives,” he stated, noting that their coalition had spent over $5,000,000 in its program, including taking over 200 water samples.
However, he pointed out that the proposal’s overlapping of tiers, waivers and exemptions “creates multiple classes and layers of confusion.”
Although the regional board did not make a decision on the proposal, several board members indicated their support for the voluntary coalitions of irrigators.
“I support the coalitions because they have made great strides to put in effect the best management practices,” said Kate Hart-Johns, the board chair. “I also agree that they need to do more.”
She said the regulations need to achieve a balance of getting the best water quality while not “putting people [out] of business.”
The claims of the growers and board members that water quality was improving under the voluntary program were strongly contested by farmworkers plagued with contaminated drinking water supplies in rural communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
“Many parents in some of the poorest communities in the Valley have to tell their kids not to drink the tap water, since the water is contaminated,” said Maria Herrera. “The growers talked about the cost to the farm industry of cleaning up the water.”
Herrera pointed out the cost of contaminated water to poor communities. “Most of our communities are paying twice for water – first for the water bill and second for bottled water to drink,” she stated.
She emphasized that paying twice for water is difficult, considering that the average farmworker salary is only $15,000 per year.
Walter Ramirez from the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF) pointed out that pesticides and nitrates are the main contaminant found in drinking water supplies. “Irrrigated agriculture is not the only source of these contaminants, but it is the main source,” he said. “The Board should take action to regulation irrigation discharge.”
Michael Lozeau, CSPA lawyer, said the coalition approach to regulating agricultural pollution is bound to failure, since there is no way of knowing which growers are violating the law. “I’m sure some farms are great, while others are awful,” he quipped. “But there is no evidence that that the coalition approach has worked. They analysis is completely lacking.”
He said diazinon and chlorpyrifos pollution has declined not because of the coalition work, but due to the fact that these pesticides were replaced with pyrethroids.
Dick Pool, Administrator of Water for Fish, highlighted the role that agricultural pollution, along with water exports, plays in the Central Valley salmon decline and the subsequent loss of salmon fishing industry jobs.
“The Sacramento River fall run chinook salmon run crashed 97 percent from 2002 to 2009,” he stated. “This caused a loss of $1.4 billion and 23,000 jobs to the economy. People lost their life savings and their homes went into further.”
He praised the board for approving a study of the Delta flows needed to restore Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations last year, but noted that the other major factor needed to recover salmon is curb toxic agricultural discharges into the Delta.
Before the meeting, Jennings submitted to the board a letter by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance supporting the Clean Farms – Clean Water Campaign signed by over 125 fishing, environmental justice, tribal and conservation groups.
The failure of the board to aggressively regulate agricultural pollution is just part of the toxic legacy of the Schwarzenegger administration. Besides granting growers virtual “permits to pollute,” the Schwarzenegger administration fast-tracked a controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative that failed to protect ocean waters from pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing, wave energy projects and all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. This failure to include water quality under the MLPA Initiative amounted to the evisceration of the Marine Life Protection Act, a 1999 law designed to create a network of “marine protected areas” along the California coast.
While corporate media and corporate environmental groups falsely portrayed Schwarzenegger as the “Green Governor,” Schwarzenegger and his appointees, staff and collaborators did absolutely nothing to stop water pollution on Central Valley and coastal waterways or on coastal waters. The Regional Water Quality Board should break with the policies of the Schwarzenegger administration and support the aggressive regulation of agricultural water pollution in the Central Valley.