After Three Years of Deliberations, Ag Waiver Comment Period Closes
January 10, 2012
In a battle over regulating agricultural runoff that's been a high priority for regional environmental and agricultural groups since 2008, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is finally preparing to issue a decision in March.
The five-year rule, known as the ag waiver, would require the worst polluters to cut back on some pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer. After the original ag waiver expired in 2009, the water board has received a barrage of public testimony, largely from environmentalists saying stricter rules make sense and growers saying the proposed rules are unattainable and based on faulty science.
Chair of the board Jeffrey Young issued an order Jan. 9 shutting down complaints in letters submitted by ag interests (specifically, Farmers for Water Quality whose members include the California Strawberry Commission, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Western Growers Association and the Monterey County Farm Bureau).
Young rejects the group's claim that the board's hearing process has been incomplete, though he agreed to grant one additional public workshop before the board finally votes on the matter in March. The board has been without a voting quorum, but thanks to new appointments made by Gov. Jerry Brown in November, the board can finally issue a decision. Without a quorum, the board held two non-voting panel meetings, which Farmers for Water Quality representative Theresa Dunham and Kari Fisher of the California Farm Bureau Federation argued in letters in December were non-compliant with state water code.
"The Central Coast Water Board has provided an extensive and unprecedented process," Young writes in response to the letter from Farmers for Water Quality. He goes on to enumerate the opportunities for public input, beginning in 2008: dozens of meetings with interested parties, four versions of revisions open to public comment, public workshops and hearings.
"This process has been considerably more extensive and inclusive than nearly any other action taken by the Central Coast Water Board," according to Young.
In his order, Young also closed the written record, shutting down the opportunity to submit new written material.