The Clean Farms, Clean Water Campaign, a coalition of over 50 fishing, farming, environmental, and community groups, announced their disapproval of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s decision yesterday to extend waivers for farm runoff in the Central Valley. Following a packed public hearing on the issue, the Board decided to extend the 20 year old exemption for growers in the Central Valley from regulations on their agricultural discharges for two more years.
“The Central Valley Water Board has once again caved to the pressure of big agricultural business in the Central Valley,” said Bill Jennings, director of Stockton-based DeltaKeeper. “The Board has also failed to do its duty to protect the health of California citizens, and fish in our waterways.”
A large group attended the public hearing in Sacramento in favor of regulating these discharges from Central Valley farms, and more than 25 people testified to the importance of regulating these discharges, and the effects that agricultural pollution has had on their communities. The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, expressed their concern about the health of fisheries in California, while the California Public Interest Research Group spoke about the effect this decision will have on the health of the public. The decision made by the Central Valley Water Board yesterday had wide ramifications.
The Board’s decision comes two years after California legislation was passed in 1999 declaring that all waivers under the California Clean Water Act (Porter-Cologne) would expire this January 1, 2003. One of these waivers, which was created in 1982, included the exemption of growers from regulating their discharges into surrounding rivers and streams. The waivers covered surface discharges, subsurface drainage, operational spills, and storm water run-off. All of which will continue to be unregulated, while hundreds of other businesses and industries across California will have to continue their compliance with current regulations on the discharges from their facilities. Agricultural discharges have also been exempt from the federal Clean Water Act since it’s passage in 1972.
Now, with the approval of a staff proposal to extend the waivers for two more years, the members of the Clean Farms, Clean Water Campaign fear the Board will be in the same place when that extension for the waivers expires in 2004. “The Central Valley Water Board has been aware since 1999 that these waivers would expire this January,” Jennings, whose organization DeltaKeepers is a member of the Clean Farms, Clean Water Campaign, continued. “And yet they have failed to come up with a regulatory plan to replace these outdated waivers. What is to say we will not be in the same place in two years when the extension of these waivers expires? The Central Valley Board should deal with agricultural runoff and pollution now, not in two years.”
The Regional Board’s decision includes a replacement of the existing regulatory exemptions with another “conditional waiver” from state clean water act permitting requirements. Under the new system, growers would remain exempted from the state clean water act’s permitting requirements if they implement unspecified pollution prevention and monitoring efforts. The Board’s decision fails to include any benchmarks for improvement or even an explicit requirement to reduce pollution or protect water quality.
In response to the Board’s decision Mike Lozeau, an attorney with Earthjustice, a member of the organization stated “We’ve waited almost three years for the Board to gather information and be ready to make a rational decision, we don’t know what they did during that time, but I’ve never seen a Board so unprepared to make so important a decision. Unfortunately, the decision didn’t substantively address any of the environmental concerns, and forces the environmental community to consider their appeal options.”
For more information visit: cleanfarmscleanwater.org