"Millions of dollars worth of scientific studies conducted by state and federal agencies conclusively establish that agricultural pollutants are the most pervasive source of aquatic life toxicity in the Central Valley," said DeltaKeeper Bill Jennings. "Yet under political pressure, the water boards have exempted farmers from any requirement to monitor or control pollutant discharges."
The suit was filed today in Sacramento Superior Court and seeks the revocation of a 20 year old waiver issued by the Board which exempts irrigation return flows and farm runoff from compliance with the state's clean water act, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Because agricultural discharges are also excluded from the federal Clean Water Act, California growers have been exempt from required best management practices, discharge limits or even monitoring requirements which typically regulate discharges from thousands of other businesses around the state.
"In 1982, regulators assumed that growers would regulate themselves," said Teri Olle of CALPIRG. "It's twenty years later and the data show that assumption was dead wrong."
An analysis by CALPIRG and Pesticide Action Network of over 92,000 water quality samples shows that pesticides are almost always detected in Central Valley waters (96% of all locations). They are detected at levels which are toxic to aquatic life more than half of the time (see http://calpirg.org/CA.asp?id2=3675&id3=CA&). A total of 565 miles of rivers and creeks and 488,224 acres of Delta and other waterways in the Central Valley Region alone have been officially recognized by the state and USEPA for being impaired by agricultural pesticides. In support of its claims, the groups submitted some 20 studies to the Regional Board indicating pesticide toxicity in Central Valley waters, many of which document periods of lethal toxicity for days or even weeks at a time.
In addition to threatening fish and recreational uses, agricultural discharges into the Delta waterways may degrade drinking water used by millions of Californians in the Central Valley, southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.
WaterKeepers and CALPIRG petitioned the Regional Board to dismiss the waiver in late 2000. The petition, which was supported by 67 other public interest organizations statewide, was dismissed by the Regional Board in May of 2001. An appeal by the groups was dismissed by the State Water Resources Control Board on January 23 of this year.
"We've given the regulators over a year to propose regulations to control these discharges," said Mike Lozeau of Earthjustice. "By dismissing our petition and our appeal, the water boards leave us with no choice but to go to court."