Monterey Coastkeeper Sues Over Delayed Ag Runoff Rules
April 30, 2011
As the Regional Water Quality Control Board prepares to convene May 4 for what promises to be another day packed with highly charged public comments on its agricultural runoff policy, Monterey Coastkeeper is taking the agency to court. In a lawsuit filed on Friday in Monterey County Superior Court, Monterey Coastkeeper (along with the groups Santa Barbara Channel Keeper and San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper), the environmental organizations allege the existing agricultural waiver inadequately protects waterways, and must be rewritten to offer stronger protections.
The lawsuit comes a day after the same groups, represented by the Environmental Defense Center of Santa Barbara and the Stanford Environmental Law Center, filed an administrative appeal of the regional board's most recent March 30 decision to extend the existing waiver, its third extension after expiring in 2009. (The lawsuit comes after the state board denied the environmental groups' previous appeal in a decision issued April 1.)
After the regional board drafted a new five-year waiver, which would've cracked down on the biggest fertilizer and organophosphate users, controversy erupted when growers said the new standards were impossible to meet. Congressman Sam Farr described a "hostile environment" in a Feb. 2011 letter to the regional board, urging staff to lighten its proposed standards so that farmers could comply with existing technology. "I believe that the heavily prescriptive and regulatory approach to non point source agricultural water quality so far advanced [by the draft waivers] will cause long term environmental harm on the Central Coast," Farr wrote.
Such comments have become routine in public meetings to discuss the new waiver, the next of which is May 4 in San Luis Obispo. Even if regional board members reach consensus, they now lack a voting quorum, essentially forcing the waiver into a holding pattern until Gov. Jerry Brown appoints a new board member to a vacant seat or until litigation forces action.
After the first extension, Monterey Coastkeeper and its partners "were concerned this thing would just get extended over and over again, which has in fact happened," says Steve Shimek, executive director of Monterey Coastkeeper.
"We were supposed to have a new waiver in July 2009, and here we are in 2011, with the third iteration of a waiver that has gotten weaker," Shimek says. "It’s just kind of a sad place to be on such an important issue."