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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 10th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 18 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 18

Farmers win some, lose some

BY KATHY JOHNSTON

Tough new rules aimed at keeping nitrate fertilizer out of drinking water on the Central Coast have been mainly upheld by state water quality officials, following appeals by agricultural and environmental groups.

The State Water Resources Control Board issued a draft decision regarding the local water board’s requirements that growers reduce the amount of nitrate pollution they discharge from farms and vineyards. The board’s decision amends some of those requirements, while other recommended nitrate control practices will eventually be considered by an “expert panel” at the state level.

Nitrate in drinking-water wells is considered a public health issue, and excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers is blamed for the contamination. The complex new requirements are designed to improve water quality while supporting local agriculture.

Claire Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, said her organization will develop its comments and make a submission to a public workshop set for July 23 in Sacramento.

“We’re looking for a policy as scientifically based as possible, leading to improved water quality,” Wineman said. “What is the benefit of asking growers to do complicated calculations?”

She said the rules, known as the Agricultural Order, create an administrative burden for growers.

“Those hours and hours of filling out required paperwork take time away from implementing practices to improve water quality,” Wineman added.

For Gordon Hensley of SLO Coastkeepers, which appealed the regional water board’s rules on the grounds that they’re not strict enough to protect drinking water, the state’s decision is “a mixed bag.”

“If the goal is compromise—that is, disappointing both sides—they’re getting there. But if the goal is protecting public health and safety, they’re missing the mark,” Hensley said.

Coastkeepers from SLO, Santa Barbara, and Monterey will jointly submit their comments, he noted.

Hensley believes that specific numeric requirements for nitrogen balance ratios are the best method to see if drinking-water wells are meeting health standards. The state water board’s decision eliminates any requirement for specific nitrogen

numbers to be met, finding the calculations “inexact and speculative.”

Once the state water board hears from all sides of the issue at its July 23 workshop, members hope to announce a final decision in August.

This has been a long, long debate. It’s a difficult issue, with lots of interests on the table,” Hensley said.