What is in this article?:
- Second phase of irrigated lands regulatory program will likely stretch far beyond the scope of the surface water regulations.
- Groundwater nitrate issue has also been blown through the roof with the release of a UC Davis report, “Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water.”
- New regs called "tipping point" for California agriculture and piling on still more regulations.
- California agriculture spends more than $2 billion annually complying with regulations.
The coalitions are working with regional boards now to finalize what the groundwater regulatory problem will look like. The first round of proposed well monitoring and reporting was shocking, according to Klassen.
The board wanted growers to monitor nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in wells; and then report to the regional board how much of each was applied to land with specific amounts of irrigation water applied.
“We said no way. Farmers cannot afford to do that,” Klassen says. Eventually, the board decided to focus on the key issue, nitrates in groundwater, according to Klassen.
“We already have a great deal of knowledge of current nitrate levels in drinking water. What we do not have is where that came from. It is from today’s fertilizer practices degrading water quality? Or, is it from what a lot of people are saying — it’s a legacy issue from past farming practices,” said Orth. Some contend the nitrates in the groundwater could be as old as 300 years.
(For more, see: California groundwater nitrate report more about past than present)
“The UC Davis report says 60 percent of the nitrogen applied is going into the groundwater. I do not believe that for a second,” says Klassen, who is a farmer from the Parlier, Calif., area. “Unfortunately, we do not have scientific information to disapprove that.”
However, the report’s shortcoming on that is evident, according to Klassen. One of the fallacies of the UC Davis report equating per acre nitrogen use by dividing fertilizer sales into acreage farming and then deducting the nitrogen in the harvested crop does not take into account fertilizer utilization by woody plants like orchards and vineyards, according to Klassen.
The UC Davis report’s credibility was also challenged at a May State Water Resources Control Board meeting where Dave Puglia, Western Growers senior vice president for state government affairs, called for a peer review of the study.
Among the research not cited in the study were nitrate studies conducted by three other academic organizations. Also cited was the fact that the study contained alleged errors and omissions. For example, more than 5,100 samples were repeated tests of 4,700 wells, indicating some wells were double or triple counted.
Regardless of the UC Davis’ report accuracy, Klassen says the problem of nitrate pollution exists.
Klassen believes the problem can be reasonably addressed by much the same way the surface water issue was resolved, by identifying vulnerable areas and then working on best management plans to efficiently utilize nitrogen and to develop nitrogen budgeting for nitrogen use on each crop based on soil types, yield, and similar factors.