Ag Groups Appeal New Runoff Rules
April 17, 2012
Nearly a dozen groups representing farmers filed petitions Monday with the State Water Resources Control Board urging them to overturn new runoff rules, adopted last month by the Central Coast Regional Water Control Board with a 6-0 vote.
Agricultural and environmental groups pushed back and forth on the rules, known as the "ag waiver," for more than three years. The Water Board was tasked with adopting a new set of rules to replace the old ones, which had expired in 2009 and were renewed three times. The appeal hinges on the last few minutes of the years-long proceedings, in which ag argues the public process was circumvented.
The petitioners say the regional board failed to adequately consider agriculture's proposal, thereby using biased information when approving their staff's proposal, even with modifications intended to accommodate some of ag's major concerns.
"Water Board staff routinely dismissed the merits of the agricultural alternative, and conveyed misinformation to the Central Coast Water Board claiming that the agricultural alternative was illegal," the petition states.
Board Chair Jeffrey Young closed the public comment period in January. In his decision to close the record, Young wrote, "This process has been considerably more extensive and inclusive than nearly any other action taken by the Central Coast Water Board."
Meanwhile, the group Farmers for Water Quality had commissioned CSU Monterey Bay Professor Marc Los Huertos, who had proposed an alternative that would allow growers to monitor runoff in small collectives, rather than as individuals. The board decided against accepting Los Huertos' report into the material they considered, though he did present his work orally to the board.
But the appeal largely hinges on the last few minutes of the years-long process, arguing changes the board incorporated at the last minute were in fact proposed by one interested party and should've been subject to public comment.
The petition contends board member Michael Johnston, who proposed the amendments, read language provided by Central Coast Regional Water Board Executive Director Roger Briggs, who'd received it from Monterey Coastkeeper.
"The result is that one interested party influenced the decision makers outside the presence of opposing parties, which violates the law and principles with respect to limitations on ex parte communications," the petition continues.
The petitioners say the adopted rules would impose unnecessary monitoring and result in significant economic losses to the region. Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot says monitoring each parcel will make leasing harder and could contribute to the breaking up of ag land.
Ag groups have calculated the cost of compliance would range from $25 to $250 an acre.
"You're going to have a whole bunch of parcels that are suddenly less desirable and cost more, and then pressure mounts for other uses," Groot says.
The petitions for appeal were filed by the California Farm Bureau Federation and seven county farm bureaus in the Central Coast region, as well as a coalition of the trade groups Western Growers, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.