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California’s irrigated lands policy digs deeper

By Brenda Carol
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California’s Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) is a conditional surface water program for irrigated agricultural lands, which expires in 2011. ILRP now is being replaced by “LT-ILRP,” the Long Term – Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program.

Fortunately, it looks like the new regulations are going to mean more industry self-policing than direct oversight. It’s just one example of how industry involvement in the stakeholder process can make a huge difference when everyone works together.

In 2003, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (CVRWQCB) adopted a conditional waiver of waste discharge requirements for discharges from irrigated agricultural lands. CVRWQCB is also referred to as the Regional Water Board (RWB) to make the alphabet soup somewhat less complicated.

As part of the 2003 waiver program, the Regional Water Board prepared an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for LT-ILRP. The 2003 interim waiver program was originally going to expire in 2006. However, in 2006, the Regional Water Board adopted a new conditional waiver for discharges from irrigated agricultural lands that extended the 2003 interim program until 2011.

As with many challenges CRC has faced over the years, the organization has taken a proactive, rather than reactive, stance. CRC works closely with growers, regulators and handlers, as well as consumers of its products. As an active participant in the “stakeholder” process, the organization interacts with all involved to formulate water quality monitoring systems that are workable for growers while ensuring environmental integrity. Those stakes will soon dig deeper, and CRC is once again on top of the issues.

“While ILRP was specific to surface water issues in California, LT-ILRP will now include a groundwater-monitoring component,” says Roberta Firoved, Industry Affairs Manager with the California Rice Commission (CRC) in Sacramento, Calif. “The Regional Water Board originally thought that the surface water component could be expanded to include pesticide monitoring in groundwater. However, several groundwater monitoring programs already currently evaluate pesticide levels.”

Regional Water Board focuses on nitrogen
Due in part to CRC’s participation in the stakeholder work group, the LT-ILRP will not include pesticide monitoring, which is monitored under the Department of Pesticide Regulation, Groundwater Protection Program as well as other agencies. The current LT-ILRP proposal only includes nutrients, specifically nitrogen.

“The Regional Water Board currently is focused on nitrogen because it is the largest used fertilizer in agriculture,” Firoved says. “The assumption was that farmers over-use fertilizers just because they can, and it’s the easiest way to increase yields. That is not the case. The agricultural industry has come a long way, especially this past year, in educating the public that this misconception is unfounded. Fertilizers are expensive, and too much applied to a crop is not beneficial to anyone along the chain all the way from the environment to the grower to the consumer.”

The process requires adherence, approval and input from a variety of sources, including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), EIR, as well as public comments and finally a decision by the CVRWQCB members. CEQA is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts if feasible.

CEQA is an offspring of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which was enacted in 1969. Compliance with CEQA applies to certain state and public agencies, which undertake projects that may cause a “direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect change in the environment.”

Alternatives for the LT-ILRP
Enforcement of the CEQA statute is a self-monitoring process – a process that has long been practiced by CRC. Wildlife preservation, water quality and other similar concerns have been key factors in California’s rice industry’s environmental leadership.

The CEQA process is addressing five alternatives for the LT-ILRP. They include:
• No change: The current surface water program proceeds as is with the coalitions in place – a CEQA requirement.
• Third-party Lead Entity: The ag alternative that includes some monitoring, keeps coalitions in place and provides management-plan development. It also includes the option to provide for AB3030/SB1938 options in areas without those programs.
• Individual Farm Water Quality Management Plans: Provides individual farm plans, but leaves open the question of who would implement them.
• Direct Oversight with Regional Monitoring: Modeled after Region 3 (central coast regions).
• Direct Oversight with Farm Monitoring: Modeled after the Dairy WDR.

  Key differences between the ILRP and the LT-ILRP

• The LT-ILRP included a stakeholder approach through a facilitated process.

• The stakeholders are much more diverse than with the ILRP.

• The LT-ILRP will include a management-based approach rather than a full-blown monitoring program.

• The LT-ILRP will include surface as well as groundwater.

  CRC’s role in developing LT-ILRP

• Actively engaged in the stakeholder process at the Regional Water Board office

• Meeting directly with Regional Water Board staff on the process

• Organizing meetings with all agricultural groups in Region 5

• Providing information in the CRC newsletter, grower letter and annual report

• Working to update the CRC Web site

• Meeting with the Rice Research Board (RRB) and University of California (UC) researchers on projects to augment the rice program

“The first alternative is always the ‘do nothing’ approach where we continue with the current surface water program,” Firoved says. “However, we feel that of the five regulatory options, the preferable option for agriculture is No. 2. We’re not just looking at rice. We’re looking at what would best benefit all of agriculture even though the CRC is the only commodity specific coalition in Region 5 of the CVRWQCB.

“The Regional Water Board is taking a management-based approach to addressing groundwater,” she adds. “The CRC has been involved in the stakeholder process to develop alternatives for developing a groundwater program. We’ve also been looking at examples, such as the Louisiana Master Farmer program, to glean information and ideas.”

Hopefully, all stakeholders in water quality will benefit from a very complicated ongoing process. Over the long-term, everyone has a stake in irrigated lands, and no one knows and respects that responsibility more than the organizations that serve their growers and the public that consumes their products.

Brenda Carol is a freelance writer based in California. Contact her at (805) 226-9896 or


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