May 2013 Update
An update on activities of the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition
All Coalition Members Must Acknowledge New Program
The most frequent question from members since March: What is this "Notice of Confirmation" we received after we paid our dues? The short answer: It's more paperwork that resulted from the new Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) that was adopted by the Regional Water Board for ESJWQC in December 2012. By signing the form, a member acknowledges the following: (1) that they understand a new program is in place; (2) if a member is a landowner but isn't farming the land, then any tenants are notified; or (3) if the member is renting/ leasing ground in their membership, the landowner is notified that their farm is in the program. The goal of all this is to ensure that the correct individuals are receiving program information and updates as the new WDR implementation schedule moves forward.
New Members Joining Coalition
The Regional Water Board in January mailed letters to more than 4,000 landowners in Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties (non-coalition members) asking if they were filing for an individual permit or joining a coalition to obtain coverage under the newly adopted Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) for irrigated agriculture. As of the end of April, applications for new ESJWQC membership were received from more than 700 landowners with 41,000 acres of irrigated cropland. Another 24,000 acres has been added by existing members. On April 18, the Regional Water Board sent a follow-up letter to the 2,300 landowners who didn't respond to the first letter, stressing the May 13 deadline to join the coalition. After the deadline, growers seeking coverage in the coalition must first apply to the Regional Water Board and pay a $50 fee before being allowed to join the coalition. If a grower was notified in the January or March mailing, they will be charged a $200 fee to apply. Those who join after the deadline will also be charged an initiation fee by ESJWQC.
ESJWQC to Charge Initiation Fee After May 13 Deadline
Last year, the ESJWQC Board of Directors struggled for months with how to best handle charging back dues for www.esjcoalition.org new members. The decision was made to charge a $5 per acre initiation fee for anyone who joins after the May 13 deadline for new members. This initiation fee would be on top of the current dues of $4 per acre and $50 per membership. As of early May, more than 200,000 acres of crop land in the region has yet to join the coalition or select the individual coverage option.
Lawsuits, Petitions and Other Legal Actions
The Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program has been a target of lawsuits, petitions and other legal actions ever since the Regional Water Board adopted the first program in 2003. These "lawsuit filers" include both activist groups and farming interests. The newest program is no different; in May 2012, several watershed coalitions along with activist groups filed a petition against the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) that served as the basis for the new regulations adopted for the ESJWQC in December 2012. The PEIR is also the basis for the existing program used by other coalitions until their WDRs are adopted sometime in 2013. A Sacramento Superior court issued a "tentative ruling" on March 29 that the PEIR was "deficient". What does that mean for the new program? A statement by the Regional Water Board at its April 12 meeting explained its position: "No final votes will be made on the remaining WDRs until the PEIR issues are resolved. Timeframes for the ESJWQC order will also remain unchanged until the court issues a final decision." That final court ruling is expected to be no later than July 2013. Separate petitions were filed this January after the ESJWQC WDR was adopted in December 2012. The State Water Board has yet to rule on those petitions. Stay tuned.
Templates For New Reports in Development
The Water Board has given agricultural interests in the Central Valley a first shot at creating templates for the farm evaluation, nitrogen management plan and sediment and erosion control plans. These three plans are part of the new program requirements. Templates for the plans were submitted to the Water Board on April 11 with comments expected back by May or June. After being finalized, most likely by late summer, all members will receive the template plans either via mail or through the coalition website. The deadline for returning the farm evaluation and the nitrogen plan will be 2014; the sediment erosion control plans will remain on the farm.
Surface Water Monitoring Finds Some Problems
The ESJWQC surface water monitoring found a mod- erate number of problems in regional waterways this winter, none clearly associated with farming practices. Since January, toxicity to test organisms was recorded twice for water flea, once for fat head minnow, and six times for algae. Ironically, no pesticide exceedances were associated with the toxicity, not an unusual situation for any of the water quality coalitions in the Central Valley.
Firm Hired to Complete GAR
Work has begun on a Groundwater Assessment Report (GAR) for the coalition's 1.1 million acre farming region. In February, the board hired Luhdorff & Scalmanini Consulting Engineers based in Woodland to prepare the comprehensive report required as part of the new WDR. The firm was selected out of three companies who responded to a request for proposals released early in the year. A GAR outline prepared by the firm was approved by the Regional Water Board in early May so work is proceeding at full speed to meet the January 2014 deadline. The report will compile groundwater information for the coalition region including depth to groundwater and nitrates levels in wells, data gathered from existing sources. The report will also propose which areas will be designated as either low or high vulnerability to water contamination. The vulnerability rankings describe the potential risk of discharges of sediment or farm inputs (fertilizers or pesticides) to either surface water or groundwater. Members in high vulnerable areas have additional reporting requirements.
New ESJWQC Board Members
The coalition welcomed its newest board members in 2013: Bill Brush, B&B Consulting, Modesto and Al Rossini, Rossini Ag in Madera. Gary Caseri becomes a voting member after resigning as Agricultural Commissioner for Stanislaus County and being voted onto the board as a small acreage farmer. Milton O'Hare, the new commissioner, assumes the non-voting position from Caseri. Stevie McNeil assumes the non-voting position of retiring Madera County Agricultural Commissioner Bob Rolan. Also leaving the board are Jon Einsenhut, Brian Franzia and Rich Gemperle.
2013 Coalition Board of Directors
East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition contacts: