Otter Project Sues State Water Board Over Ag Waiver Delay

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Especially after this weekend's rain, the Salinas River is running much faster than the plodding regulatory process intended to clean up the watershed.

New rules, approved in March by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board after years of deliberations, would require the largest growers and worst polluters in the region to reduce pesticides and fertilizers in runoff.

Both environmental groups and agribusiness interests appealed the rules, known as the ag waiver, to the State Water Resources Control Board. Now some of those appellants are suing.

Monterey-based The Otter Project, along with the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, filed suit against the state board Thursday in Sacramento County Superior Court.

While the state board has yet to consider the substance of the appeals over the ag waiver, the lawsuit concerns the board's decision in September to put some controversial parts of the ag waiver on hold.

The delay allows growers to continue business as usual while the appeal hearings proceed; should the ag waiver eventually be upheld, this pause would just set back the clock on compliance.

The rule at the heart of the lawsuit, which the state board delayed, would require grower to implement water quality management plans, which include water sampling and monitoring data.

"Monitoring is a necessary precursor to implementing water quality improvements…[and the longer the delay], the slower the cleanup process," according to the complaint.

“To ignore public monitoring and reporting requirements is inviting the fox into the henhouse," Otter Project Director Steve Shimek said in a statement. "The regulatory agencies and public will have no idea if growers are doing anything to control their pollution.

"The public has a right to know. That’s frankly what the lawsuit is all about," he adds.

State board officials say they have not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but through a spokesman, Chief Counsel Michael Lauffer says, "The state water bd is still in the process of reviewing several [appeals], and regardless of the lawsuit, will continue its review to resolve the important public health, environmetnal and public policy claims raised."

For more on the ag waiver story, visit www.mcweekly.com/agwaiver.

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