Proposed Legislation (SB1) Threatens Voluntary Agreements on Wate

Statement by Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition Executive Director:

SACRAMENTO, CA – Prior to last December’s State Water Board meeting, both Governor Brown and Governor Newsom took the bold step of supporting a completely new approach to water policy. With their encouragement as well as hard work on the part of scientists, farmers, environmentalists, and other stakeholders as well as the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Natural Resources Agency, Voluntary Agreements are nearly complete. However, all the progress will be lost if SB1 goes into effect.

As written, SB1 locks California into our failed regulatory system that has not worked for anyone and has guaranteed nothing but lawsuits and delays.

And while the legislation gives lip service to supporting the VA process, make no mistake about it—SB1 would result in the colapse of the Newsom Administration’s voluntary approach to updating California water policy.

It’s hard to overstate the break-through represented by the VAs. A completely new approach to managing water, they require scientific studies and put the new science into practice. They provide an agreed-upon amount of water for river flows as well as new environmental projects and other improvements—paid for by farmers, water districts, and other users—that will help get maximum benefit from the water.

In addition, all water users will have more certainty of water flow that is simply not a part of our current system. And probably most important, because the VAs are the product of compromise and agreement on the part of all water users, we can move forward today, removing ourselves from the endless cycle of lawsuits that has dominated California water policy. Real results will be felt now, not 10 years from now.

We hope the Legislature can find a way to join the Governor in charting a new path to smarter water policy.

CCM Statement on Chlorpyrifos Ban

Flawed Data Forcing Cancellation

News Release From California Citrus Mutual

Recently, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced that they are going to begin the cancellation process of chlorpyrifos. The statement cites scientific findings that chlorpyrifos poses serious public health and environmental risks to vulnerable communities.SaveOurCitrus Logo

“The decision to ban chlorpyrifos is not surprising given the significant pressure from anti-pesticide groups, active legislative proposals, regulatory proceedings, and ongoing court battles,” said CCM President Casey Creamer. “However, this decision relies heavily on an evaluation that was significantly flawed and based upon unrealistic modeling scenarios that are not verifiable by actual results in DPR’s own air monitoring network.”

“California Citrus Mutual and our member growers stand by science that is sound, that properly evaluates risks and puts forward appropriate safeguards to protect ourselves, our employees, and our surrounding communities. We are committed to safe and effective use of chlorpyrifos and other crop protection tools.”

“The process for which this chemical was evaluated was purposely exaggerated to achieve the desired outcome and jeopardizes the scientific credibility of the Department of Pesticide Regulation. This decision sets a terrible precedent for future evaluations and creates a chilling effect on companies planning on making significant investments to bring new products to the market in California.”

“The citrus industry is fighting feverishly to protect itself from the deadly citrus disease, Huanglongbing,” Creamer continued. “In order to do so, we must have the necessary tools in the toolbox for an effective Integrated Pest Management program.”

“The once mighty citrus-producing state of Florida has lost 70% of its production due to this disease, which is expanding exponentially in residential citrus trees in Southern California at this very moment. While our commercial growers will remain vigilant, it is vital that our policymakers recognize the seriousness of the threat and ensure sound scientific procedures are followed.”

“California Citrus Mutual will continue to be actively engaged in the regulatory processes around the cancellation decision and will continue to explore all potential remedies to allow the safe and effective use of chlorpyrifos.”

Roger Isom: Probable Electric Rate Hikes Raise Concern for Ag

California Agriculture Concerned Over PG&E Increases, Overtime Rules

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Water, labor, and air quality issues in California keep growers’ plates full of challenges, but with probable PG&E rate increases in the future, it seems they can’t catch a break. Roger Isom, President and CEO of the Western Agriculture Processors Association and California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, is among those wondering how the industry is going to compete.

“We’ve been paying for a lot of those safety upgrades. What happened? I mean, we’ve got to let the investigation take place, but to saddle rate payers with that amount of money, we just can’t do it,” Isom said of the threat of rate increases.

Roger Isom, president and CEO, Western Processors Association
Roger Isom, president and CEO, Western Processors Association (source: LinkedIn)

At the same time, the industry is still battling the effects of the Brown administration’s ruling on overtime.

“There are farm workers in 45 states that could work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and never trigger overtime. We have to compete with that, and that’s just unacceptable,” Isom said.

Isom is optimistic about new appointments in California administration, though.

“You’ve got Jared Blumenfeld, who’s the new CalEPA Secretary. He was actually extremely helpful over there when we were working on incentives for replacing pumps and tractors,” Isom explained.

Isom also gave credits to Wade Crowfoot, who was on the previous administration and helped with port shutdowns.

“He’s going to hit up resources, which obviously with the water situation is a very critical agency for us. Seeing somebody over there that could be helpful is important,” he said.

Groundwater Policy Confusion at State Level

WGA’s Puglia on Sacramento’s Muddled Potable Groundwater Policy

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Groundwater Quality

Many residents in California’s agricultural regions rely on groundwater from private wells rather than from municipal supplies for clean drinkable water. Test results on many of these wells have revealed excess nitrates and other dangerous elements. Indisputably, all state residents deserve clean potable water.

Who is Responsible?

Cris Carrigan, director of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Office of Enforcement, issued confidential letters to growers in two regions, Salinas Valley and the Tulare Lake Basin, demanding these farmers supply potable water to the citizens in need.

“The letter represents a legal proceeding by the Office of Enforcement,” said Dave Puglia, executive vice president of the Western Growers Association (WGA). “Why they desire to keep it confidential is something they would have to answer, but I think sending that many letters to a community of farmers is a pretty good guarantee that it won’t remain confidential.”

Dave Puglia, executive vice president, Western Growers Association, groundwater
Dave Puglia, executive vice president, Western Growers Association

 

The first letters went to growers in Salinas one year ago. “Although there has been some advancement of the discussions between some of the growers in the Salinas Valley and the Office of Enforcement,” Puglia said, “I don’t think it’s been put to bed yet.”

Which Groundwater Supply?

“It’s critical to distinguish between entire communities in need of [municipal] drinking water assistance and domestic well users whose wells have nitrate issues. Those are two different things.”

“It’s important to keep that distinction. The state has spent money and is advancing programs to provide clean drinking water to small community water systems that don’t have that capability, and that’s appropriate,” Puglia clarified. “That is not what we’re talking about here.”

“We’re talking about a smaller number of individuals whose domestic wells are contaminated with nitrates. These are people not served by a municipal system.”

“Again, these are people who depend upon wells located on property that has been previously used for agriculture, and the groundwater has nitrate levels that exceed state limits. We are talking about one to maybe five household connections serviced by one well, so it is a very small service of water.”

“This is a much smaller universe than we’re accustomed to talking about when we talk about nitrate levels in drinking water. It often conjures up the image of municipal water systems that [cannot be treated.] That is a different problem entirely, and the state has made some advances in tackling that problem and needs to do more. This is something of a smaller nature, but the cost-impacts could be very significant.”

Replacement Water

“There are different ways of providing replacement drinking water for some period of time until those folks can be connected to municipal water service. That really should be the objective here; if a domestic well is that far gone, we should get these folks connected to a municipal water service,” Puglia said.

The bigger question is what should the state’s replacement water policy be for individuals whose wells are contaminated with nitrates? Puglia said, “The state of California and the federal government encouraged farmers to apply nitrogen for decades to produce something we all need—nutritious food preferably from American soil.

“Now, with the benefit of scientific advancement, we discover that much of that nitrogen was able to leach below the root zone and enter the groundwater supply.”

Irrigated Field in Salinas, groundwater
Irrigated Field in Salinas

Groundwater Policy Debate

“This was not an intentional act of malice to pollute groundwater. These were farmers doing [best practices] to provide food as they were coached and educated by our universities and by our state and federal governments.” Puglia said the state looks at this problem as if it were a case of industrial pollution and growers should be punished.

“That is fundamentally not what this is. I think it’s really important for the state of California, for Governor Jerry Brown, and for his administration, to stand back, take a hard look at this problem and differentiate it from industrial pollution, because it is not the same. They need to go back to the SWRCB’s recommendations for best solutions,” Puglia declared.

“Three or four years ago, the Water Board recommended to the legislature the most preferable policy solution for the public good was to have everyone chip in for clean water. This is just like how all of us pay a small charge on our phone bill for the California Lifeline Service for folks who can’t afford phone service,” Puglia said.

“If we have a connection to a water system, we would all pay a small charge on our water bill to generate enormous amounts of revenue that the state could use to fix not only nitrate contamination but all of the other contaminants in the state’s drinking water supplies. Many of those contaminants are far more hazardous than nitrate, such as Chromium-6 (a carcinogen), arsenic and other toxins that are industrial pollutants, that pose a much greater health risk.”

Puglia explained that in this case, the state bypassed its own preferred ‘public goods charge‘ policy option with regard to water. The state bypassed its second preferred policy option, which is a small tax on food. The state bypassed its third preferred policy option, a fertilizer tax. “State officials from Governor Brown’s office went straight to the policy option the State Water Board said it did not prefer, which is to target farmers.”

Complex Contamination Needs a Holistic Solution

Now the big question is who ought to bear the burden of paying for that solution, both on a temporary basis and then on a permanent basis? Puglia said, “The state itself and the State Water Board itself already projected three policy options that would be preferable.”

“These options would have spread the cost very broadly among Californians through three different mechanisms, seemingly in recognition of the fact that farmers were doing the right thing for decades in growing food using fertilizer. Fertilizer that contains nitrogen has been essential to growing food since the dawn of humankind.”

Puglia said that nitrate contamination of drinking water is a legitimate problem in California. However, it pales in comparison to the presence of industrial pollutants in drinking water supplies that are highly carcinogenic and highly toxic. Such water sources throughout southern California and parts of the Bay Area can no longer be used.

Rather than looking at this holistically, Puglia said, Governor Brown’s administration has focused exclusively on one contaminant, nitrate, that affects a relatively small number of Californians and is targeting one small group of Californians to pay for replacement water.  A holistic perspective would determine that California has a severe problem with its drinking water due to contamination by different toxic substances that vary in different regions of the state and that affect many Californians diversely.

“The obvious way to ensure people have safe, clean drinking water,” Puglia said, “is a broad solution, like a fee on water connections that we all pay. And that has been, in fact, the SWRCB’s preferred solution.”

“And, yet, we have made no effort as a state to move that policy forward. Instead, we are defaulting to running over a small group of people who are relatively defenseless, politically.”

“More importantly some people in the Governor’s Office, as well as leaders and secretaries in the Governor’s administration, including Matt Rodriquez, secretary, CalEPA, expressed some agreement with our position and sympathy with our predicament. Yet the letters continued to go out,” Puglia said.