Orth says rather than focusing on the past, the program should focus on current nitrogen fertilization. “We can develop best management plans for the various commodities now grown on the various soil types,” Orth says. “We need balance and reason with these new regulations for today’s farming practices”

Neither believes it is necessary to have a massive number of expensive monitoring wells.

“We have a fairly good understanding of groundwater in our region. We have maps indicating depths to groundwater,” Klassen said. This coupled with information about soil types will allow coalitions to focus on high vulnerability areas and react accordingly.

Klassen said the dairy nitrate monitoring program set up by the Central Valley board in 2007 would be a good pattern for agriculture.

Rather than have nitrate monitoring wells on all dairies, the regional board agreed to representative monitoring wells where wells are dug on dairies with various manure management systems.

“If the best management practices used on the same style lagoon as you are using results in no nitrates, then all the same style lagoons and best management practices should be cleared,” Klassen says.

“Irrigated ag needs to do the same representative monitoring for specific crops, similar soil conditions and similar practices,” he said.

The debate over what the groundwater plan will look like is expected to come to a head in October when the board tells the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition what it will accept to meet groundwater quality mandates. That is expected to set the pattern for the remainder of the coalitions in the heart of California’s agriculture.

What is certain, according to Klassen, is this will culminate in a mandatory nitrate management for most farms by 2014.

Before then, Klassen said there will be extensive assessment of the problem next year, followed by how nitrate levels will be tracked from now on. The cost of that will only add to the regulatory burden of farming in California. How much is the question right now.