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Coalition: Streams in valley OK

This article appeared in the Modesto Bee on November 12, 2005

By John Holland, Bee Staff Writer

Farms in the Northern San Joaquin Valley do not appear to be sending large amounts of pollutants into streams, a growers group reported.

The findings are from the first year of sampling by the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, formed in 2003 as a voluntary approach to meeting the state's water standards.

The sampling at 13 sites from Stanislaus to Madera counties found some violations of the standard for E. coli, a type of bacteria that could indicate water unsafe for drinking if it is not treated.

Further research is needed to determine the cause, which could be livestock but might be septic tanks, pets or other nonfarming sources, coalition leaders said at a meeting Thursday at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center.

The sampling found a few violations of pesticide limits, mainly for chlorpyrifos and diazinon, but coalition leaders said the findings overall were acceptable.

"Really, you should be commended on the results of that, because it really looks good," said Dennis Gudgel, agri-cultural commissioner for Stanislaus County.

The coalition is one of several that formed in California after state officials tightened rules on discharges into waterways. Growers on irrigated land can either join one of these groups, which will educate members about low-polluting farm prac-tices, or face tough restrictions on pesticide use and other activities.

The East San Joaquin coalition has 1,865 members, who farm 507,038 acres between the San Joaquin River and the Sierra foothills. The members represent about half the irrigated land within the boundaries.

The coalition hired experts to sample the 13 sites monthly during the just-finished irrigation season and twice during the last rainy season, said Chairman Parry Klassen, a fruit grower near Selma.

The experts tested water and sediment in several waterways for bacteria and chemicals, he said. They also dropped "indicator species" of minnow, flea and algae into the water to see how it affected them, he said.

Klassen said the health standards are extremely conservative a few parts per trillion in some cases and exceeding them does not always mean that the water is polluted.

"We want good science," he said. "We all do. We just want to make sure the numbers they hold us to are correct."

The coalition is paying for the testing with dues from members, about $551,000 this year. The cost is much smaller than the estimate by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, said coalition board member Wayne Zipser, executive manager of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau.

Coalition member Charles Jahn, an almond grower in the Denair area, said the effort is worthwhile.

"I think they are moving in the right direction," he said. "I think it will confirm that agriculture is doing everything it can to protect the environment."

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Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or

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