Otter Project lawsuit against state regulators takes question of ag pollution to the courts.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The years-long controversy over how to regulate agricultural runoff on the Central Coast has taken more twists and turns than the Salinas River. Next month, the courts will begin deciding which elements of the rules, known as the “ag waiver,” will hold.
The ag waiver, which was approved last year by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, requires growers to monitor water quality downstream from farms, and for the largest growers to submit plans by Oct. 1 to reduce traces of fertilizer and pesticides.
There are four pending appeals – from both enviros and ag interests, some arguing the rule’s too tough, others it’s too lenient – at the State Water Resources Control Board.
The state board has yet to rule on the appeals. But it agreed to freeze certain waiver provisions, including some of the most contentious, before making a final decision.
On Nov. 29, the Monterey-based Otter Project, along with San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and others, sued the state board, calling for an injunction to block the delay. The lawsuit claims the state board acted illegally by postponing reporting and monitoring requirements for farmers.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley is scheduled to hear the case Feb. 8. State board spokesman Tim Moran declined to comment on ongoing litigation.
Otter Project director Steve Shimek says Frawley’s decision will give clarity to how the courts consider farm runoff. “There’s this weighing of economic harm to the growers and the harm to the public and environment,” Shimek says. “Is ag hurting the environment and hurting people? That’s the question.”