The nitrate issue has also been blown through the roof with the recent release of a UC Davis report, “Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water.” It says more than 95 percent of the nitrate levels in drinking water in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley have come from agriculture.

Orth says the impending groundwater quality program could be the “the tipping point” for California agriculture.

Klassen calls the groundwater element of the irrigated lands program “Piling it on!” Already, California agriculture spends more than $2 billion annually complying with regulations. One crop specific example of that: California citrus growers are burdened with more than $350 per acre in regulatory costs while their counterparts in Texas spend $32 per acre. New groundwater quality regs will only add to that.

Orth said the surface water regs impacted about 25 percent of the farmland in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The Central Valley regional board said the surface water regs impacted 25,000 growers and 5 million acres. Groundwater regs will impact 35,000 growers and more than 7 million acres in the region.

Orth does not believe most growers understand how far reaching the new groundwater rules will be.

The surface discharge regs were successfully mitigated via coalitions where growers assessed themselves about $2 per acre to come under a coalition rather than individually monitoring surface runoff and developing management plans. Individually, it has been estimated that it would cost $10,000 per farm to meet surface water quality regulations.

Orth is fearful that the cost of an individual farm to meet groundwater monitoring and management could be three to five times that.

It was good, Orth and Klassen say, to be part of a coalition during the surface water protection procession. It will be almost imperative to join a coalition for the groundwater phase, they contend.

In fact, coalition enrollment is being re-opened for 120 days starting Nov. 15.

However, even the coalition approach will be more expensive this time around. The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board’s program for monitoring groundwater ranges from $4 million to $80 million per year for the Tulare Lake Basin alone, according to Orth. The cost to growers could be up to $189 per acre.

The cost range represents the “devil in the details” of what the Central Valley regional board decides to mandate. This board governs the heart of California’s agriculture from the Oregon border to the southern Kern County line.