Central Coast water board aims to keep ag pollutants in check
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Salinas Valley is home to some of the most polluted waterways on the Central Coast. Moss Landing Harbor is one of the state’s “toxic hot spots.” In some parts of the valley, half the wells have nitrate levels that exceed federal contaminant levels. The main culprit: irrigation runoff that carries pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural fields.
These are some of the sobering findings of a new report by the Central Coast Water Quality Control Board, which has proposed an order to strengthen regulation of agricultural discharges. “We would be negligent if we didn’t look at ways to get that under control,” Executive Officer Roger Briggs says.
The order would require comprehensive farm plans and establish timelines for growers to reduce runoff and groundwater discharges in compliance with water quality standards.
Local ag industry officials say the regs are too burdensome. “They have definitely set some milestones and a number of limits that are very unachievable at this point,” says Dirk Giannini, co-chair of the Monterey County Farm Bureau’s water committee. Giannini and others plan to propose an alternative approach.
The water board set an April 1 deadline for comments and counter-proposals, but the debate is far from over. Briggs says the board won’t likely consider the order until the fall.
Monterey Coastkeeper Steve Shimek says the new order is a vast improvement over the 2004 conditional waiver: “Instead of asking people to educate themselves and do the right thing, the new order regulates discharges.” He says water conditions are not improving under the existing system.
The Salinas watershed has 117 water bodies not meeting Clean Water Act standards, and pesticides are causing lethal levels of toxicity for invertebrates, according to the report. “The water literally kills stuff,” Shimek says.
“We have good evidence that our waters are impaired and we have good evidence of who is impairing them,” he adds. “What are we going to do about it?”