Dairy ruling should have little impact
Court seeks clarification in Water Board order
A state appellate court ruling regarding the monitoring of dairies and groundwater should not have much of an impact on dairies, said a Western United Dairyman’s executive director.
On Tuesday, the Third District Court of Appeal sent back to the district court the ruling over monitoring of dairies and groundwater for clarification of procedural errors said Michael Marsh with WUD, a voluntary organization which represents the dairy industry.
Marsh said the ruling is not nearly as significant as purported by Community Water Center and Asociacion de Gente Unida por el Agua.
That group indicated the ruling overturned the Regional Water Quality Board’s order that implemented regulations for the Valley’s 1,600 dairies in 2007.
“Their press release is absolutely incorrect,” said Marsh. The Water Board basically agreed.
The case was decided on purely procedural grounds. The court did not find that the underlying requirements were deficient, with the exception of groundwater monitoring requirements that the board has already revised for other reasons, said Kathie Smith, public information officer with the State Water Resources Control Board.
She said the Board is still reviewing the court’s lengthy decision.
“However, at this point our response is that the Regional Board’s requirements were designed as a practical suite of solutions to protect groundwater from manure and other waste. Primarily, the court’s decision finds fault with how the board required dairies to demonstrate that they were not adversely impacting groundwater,” Smith said.
The environmental group that challenged the Water Board’s order said that each of the Central Valley’s 1600 dairies generate thousands to millions of pounds of manure and urine every day. The pollution leaches into the region’s groundwater, which supplies drinking water for 90% of the communities in the Central Valley.
A recent UC Davis study found nitrate contamination is a serious problem and blamed much of the nitrates in the groundwater on the Valley’s dairies.
However, March said that study did not take into account progress made by dairies to monitor the amount of nutrients (manure) applied to their crops since that 2007 order. He said today there are “hundreds” of monitoring wells on dairies throughout the Valley.
“Dairies have been collecting data to realize what best practices they should employ,” said Marsh, adding that many farmers have been able to reduce the amount of nutrients put on crops.
“They don’t want to put any more on it than necessary,” he said.
“The Court’s ruling is a huge victory,” said Laurel Firestone, attorney for the Community Water Center, representing AGUA. “Water quality regulators claim that better-than-nothing is good enough. The Court sent a message that this is no longer business as usual.”
According to Firestone, the 50-page opinion requires that rules adopted in 1968 to prevent continued pollution of the state’s waters finally be implemented by the Regional Water Boards.
Marsh said it is basically cleaning up the language in the order and will not have any affect on farmers.
The nonprofit groups that brought the case called it “a complete victory for the people of the Central Valley, said James Wheaton, president of ELF.
AGUA is a coalition made up of residents of Central Valley communities, as well as community-based and non-profit organizations working in the Central Valley. The coalition, founded in February 2006, represents several communities, including Alpaugh, Cutler, Ducor, Earlimart, East-Orosi, Lindsay, Orosi, Pixley, Plainview, Poplar, Porterville Tonyville, Tooleville, Seville, Strathmore, Sultana and West Goshen in Tulare County.