New technologies, along with Almond Board-supported environmental research and industry partnerships, are positioning almond growers to deal with new water quality regulations for groundwater that are on the horizon.

Controlling off-site and downward movement of applied water, pesticides and fertilizers will be particularly important in the coming years as regulators turn their sights to improving surface waters with identified problems and addressing ground-water quality.

While concepts are still being developed about how ground water will be regulated, officials say ground water protections are certain to be part of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s permanent Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program now under development.

Regional Board Executive Officer Pamela Creedon told more than 100 guests at the Almond Board’s Environmental Stewardship Tour in March that her staff will submit a permanent Irrigated Lands program that includes protections for groundwater to the Regional Board for consideration sometime in 2010. The Regional Board is concerned about salts, nitrates, and pesticides that are making their way into groundwater as a result of leaching.

Creedon noted that her agency is interested in working with almond growers in putting together a long-term Irrigated Lands Program. The Regional Board has assembled a stakeholder advisory group of agricultural, municipal and environmental interests and Creedon invited almond growers to get involved.

Development of these types of programs can be tedious, but regulators want to hear from growers about what does and doesn’t work, and what can be done to reduce the chances of inputs getting into the water. For more information about getting involved, log on to the long-term program’s Web site.

Already, almond growers, such as Quinn River Ranch in Waterford — host to this year’s Environmental Stewardship Tour — are proving that newer technologies and management practices can help improve the way they farm while reducing impacts on the environment.

Joe Bavaro, farm manager of Bavaro Farming Co., shared information about Quinn River’s high-tech approach to managing its water, fertilizers and pesticides. Using site-specific data from its computerized irrigation management system, he can measure and monitor soil moisture, system operations, and weather conditions to apply irrigations at a desired level. The approach helps improve irrigation efficiency and also reduces runoff and leaching by keeping drip-applied water and fertilizers within the root zone.

This is especially important for Quinn River, which is located in the Dry Creek watershed within the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition. The watershed has been pegged for exceedances in the Coalition’s water sampling program.

Coalition Manager Parry Klassen said coordinated management plans and proactive measures taken by growers have significantly reduced exceedances in the watershed.

In the meantime, the Almond Board of California continues to support industry partnerships and environmental research that will help give growers additional tools to address water quality and other environmental issues.

In 2006-2007 the Almond Board started funding a multi-year, statewide research project aimed at fine-tuning our understanding about nitrogen use in almonds and developing a nutrient budget approach to fertilizer management. The project includes industry, CDFA and USDA funding. This type of research can lead to more effective use of nitrogen while also reducing its potential movement into groundwater or surface waterways.

ABC’s Environmental Committee is also funding a project to develop a 3-D computer simulation model of almond tree growth. Improving our understanding of complex almond tree growth and yield responses could one day help better time the applications of inputs with stages of tree development.

Finally, an ongoing project focused on improving calibration of aerial sprayers may help minimize drift and offsite movement, and increase efficacy of aerially applied insecticides and fungicides.

In addition to research, partnerships such as the Almond Pest Management Alliance (PMA II), the Coalition for Urban and Rural Environmental Stewardship (CURES), the Navel Orangeworm Areawide Project, and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative are helping develop new technologies and management practices growers can use to minimize the impact of almond farming on surface and ground water quality and other natural resources.

ABC is working with CURES to measure the efficacy of best management practices, such as holding ponds, for protecting sensitive waterways. The board’s support of PMA II helps encourage the use of monitoring and effective reduced-risk pest management practices.

Taken together, these tactics will help almond growers in finding solutions to water quality and other environmental issues through crop production breakthroughs that are both economically viable and environmentally sound.