In a final decision this morning the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) upheld controversial discharge permit exemptions for farm pollution in the Central Valley. The decision came after a year of overwhelming public opposition to the exemptions by hundreds of public health, environmental and fishing groups, state senators and assemblypersons, editorial boards, and hundreds of thousands of concerned California residents.
Today’s decision continues to allow pesticide discharges from over seven million acres of farmland to contaminate hundreds of miles of streams, rivers, lakes, bays and groundwater, and the drinking water of millions of Californians.
“The State Board’s decision is a pat on the back for farmers and a slap in face for all Californians who are expected to control their pollution,” said DeltaKeeper Bill Jennings. “Behind the waiver façade, there’s not a single requirement to reduce pollution, implement control measures or meet water quality standards.”
The State Water Board’s decision effectively rubberstamps the appealed Central Valley Regional Water Board’s July 2003 resolution. Both the July resolution and today’s decision fail to generate adequate funding for enforcing the program; fail to ensure measurable reductions in pollutant loads by not mandating basic controls, timelines, or performance standards; and continue to gloss over the need for individual discharger accountability. In issuing the decision, the State Water Board also does not respond to the volumes of scientific documents and expert testimonies in evidence, which show that the inadequate monitoring program will fail to protect water quality.
“The State Board claims that this waiver is a ‘sea change,’ but we believe it’s no meaningful change from the status quo,” said Michael Lozeau, Earthjustice attorney representing the environmental groups. “At best, the waiver hints that growers shouldn’t pollute, but it doesn’t require them to reduce their pollution by a single ounce. The law requires more.”
At stake was the opportunity to develop first-ever controls to limit discharges of pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, toxins and other agricultural pollutants that impact water quality. Agricultural runoff is one of the largest sources of water pollution in California and detrimentally harms both aquatic ecosystems and human health.
“We were expecting the State Board to step up to the task of regulating this major source of water pollution,” said Sejal Choksi, Pesticide Program Attorney for San Francisco Baykeeper and Deltakeeper. “Instead, all of the nine Regional Boards in California now have the State Board’s blessing to turn a blind eye towards agricultural runoff.”
Deltakeeper, San Francisco Baykeeper, Environment California, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy and the California Sportfishing Alliance appealed the Central Valley Regional Water Board’s decision to exempt growers from complying with the state’s water quality laws in August 2003. They asked the State Water Board to close the unlawful loophole for agribusiness and end two decades of demonstrated environmental degradation.