Quandt said the riparian buffers required by the water board’s rule are concerning to major produce purchasers, because the buffers attract animals into the fields which can introduce feces and pathogens into the crops. Buyers have been pressuring farmers to eliminate the type of buffer zones that the water board’s rule would require. Resolving the conflict may ultimately cost the farmers caught in the middle, forcing them to pay for expensive fencing along areas where buffer zones would be created, in order to keep animals out.

The proposed rules by the Central Coast water board also contain a requirement that has been challenged by farmers and agricultural experts as unachievable – a rule which would ultimately mandate water that leaves farms meet drinking water quality standards in terms of its chemical content.

Meeting that strict requirement would be extremely difficult for growers, who use pesticides and fertilizers to protect and grow their crops. One of the concerns farmers have regarding the rule is that - in addition to limits on other chemicals - it would require the amount of nitrate in water discharged by farms be very low. Nitrates are a major focus of the water board’s new rules – they are chemicals that have built up in the groundwater in many areas of the state, posing both environmental and health problems. They are harmful if consumed in high quantities, causing sickness, chronic health conditions and even death in some cases. However, among other sources, they also come from fertilizers, which are essential for growing crops.

Among other concerns, Central Coast farmers worry the drinking water quality standard, if enforced, would severely restrict the amount of fertilizer they could use, threatening their ability to grow marketable produce. The only other options farms with water that doesn’t meet the drinking water standard have is to treat all the water that comes off of their farms or prevent water discharges completely - which isn't doable, according to Kevin Merrill, a Santa Barbara County grape grower. In lieu of those alternatives, farmers must try and reduce the amount of chemicals in their water through input - and Merrill said soil in many areas is so contaminated from decades of fertilizer-use by past agricultural operations that nitrate levels in water discharged from those farms is high regardless of current growers’ activities.

Kirk Schmidt, who runs Central Coast Water Quality Preservation, Inc., a water testing co-operative used by farmers to comply with current water testing requirements, said the drinking water standard is infeasible.