Orth pointed out the coalition operates as a third party that “assists with compliance, not somebody who tries to regulate.”

Orth said he suspects most of the farmland within the coalition’s boundaries east of Highway 99 will fall into the classification of high vulnerability. “West of 99 the amount of high vulnerable land will depend on how much latitude we have in defining vulnerability,” he said.

Nikolich said he is troubled by the assumption that blame for nitrates in drinking water appears to be resting mostly on agriculture: “Right now, the default is to assume it’s ag related. and so we’re dealing with a black eye in terms of public relations.”

Orth concurred with the notion of “guilty until proven innocent” and said, “It’s our obligation to prove to them our practices are protective.” He said the coalition hopes to conduct “a massive data collection process over the next three years” that will help to tell the story of agriculture.

He added that the coalition is considering working with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on “an isotope project to identify source and age.”

The research, he said, could help determine “is it a legacy issue and not a current ag issue, or is it a human use issue or natural issue.”

Fresno County grower Bill Chandler asked Orth if he thought the new regulations could affect cropping patterns “if you’re growing crops that take more nitrogen.”

“I think this is going to ultimately prove to be commodity specific and/or management practice specific,” Orth replied. “Over time we’re going to learn that certain commodities use certain management practices, irrigation and nitrogen applications that present themselves to be a challenge. We’ll have to narrow it down and talk about what we have to do to refine this.”

There was some concern among those at the meeting that pressure could be stepped up to force costly changes in farming practices, for example replacing flood irrigation with drip systems.

“I’ve been told they can’t tell you that you have to go to drip,” Orth said. “What they can tell is that what you’re doing today is not protective and you will have to change. There’s a little bit of a nuance there. And so I think the challenge will be to figure out what are your alternatives.”

Rick Hoelzel, project director with the coalition, outlined costs for belonging to the coalition. For current coalition members, those inside the coalition service area pay $2.27 per acre; those outside pay $2.39 per acre. They also pay a year’s administrative fee of $ $26 per invoice.

New coalition members inside or outside the coalition service area pay $1.16 per acre, in addition to an administrative fee of $26.

The cost differential is due to current members being covered by both the surface and groundwater portions of the program. New members are assumed at the start not to have surface discharge issues and are only assessed the groundwater component of the cost.

Details on the coalition and the new state order are available at www.kingsriverwqc.org.



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