Nitrate Debate To Resume

Bakersfield Workshop Set For November 30 On Irrigated Lands Plan

It’s been three months since southern San Joaquin Valley growers and other farm interests gave the Central California Regional Water Quality Board an earful on the state agency’s proposed Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program general order on nitrate controls.

Now south valley farmers are getting set for another chance to make their views known on what would be strict and possibly very costly regulations covering discharges of water used for irrigation into groundwater. Nitrate contamination has become a major issue in many impoverished small valley towns.


The Regional Board has scheduled what is again likely to be an all-day session on the controversial Tulare Lake basin rules.

It will begin at 8 a.m. Friday, November 30, at Bakersfield’s Doubletree Hotel. The hotel is on the west side of Freeway 99 at the Rosedale Highway exit.

David Orth, Southern San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition Coordinator and Kings River Conservation District General Manager, said it is likely several hundred people may attend.

During an August 21 standing-room-only meeting attended by hundreds in Tulare, the Regional Board promised a second hearing after most in the audience had to wait through 6½ hours of lengthy staff presentations and panel discussions before being allowed to testify.

That is not to be the case this time around. “Very limited Regional Board staff presentations will be made at the Bakersfield meeting to maximize the time available for citizen comments on the proposed order,” a notice of the November 30 hearing stated.

“Unfortunately, the number of people attending the August 21 meeting exceeded the capacity of the meeting facility, so some people left the meeting and were unable to speak to the Board,” the notice states. Comments on the administrative draft Tulare Lake Basin Area order will be accepted at the November 30 hearing.


Another difference will be consideration of another set of general waste discharge requirements, for the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed area. That proposal has advanced ahead of the Tulare Lake regulations and is scheduled to be the first general order considered for adoption. A December 7 hearing has been scheduled in Rancho Cordova.

In its notice of the Bakersfield hearing, the Regional Board said “it is planned that each order will be tailored to the needs of the individual watershed area.”

The Regional Board acknowledged, however, “There is considerable concern in the Tulare Lake Basin that the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed order will set precedence for all future orders. The board has received numerous requests from people in the southern San Joaquin Valley for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed order.

“The Board will, therefore, conduct a special meeting in Bakersfield to accept oral testimony convenient to people in the southern San Joaquin Valley. The hearing will then be continued to the December 7 meeting in Rancho Cordova where additional public comments will be heard, and then the Board will deliberate and vote on the proposed order.”

Orth told the KRCD board November 13 in Fresno, “The biggest unanswered question is what kind of monitoring program we can offer to meet their [the Regional Board’s] objectives.” Mandates for grower planning and reporting have also been controversial.


Many growers in Fresno and Tulare counties planned to get a head start on brushing up on the water quality issue.

A large audience attended a November 16 informational meeting at the Fresno County Farm Bureau and heard about the huge regulatory changes under consideration as well as alternative proposals developed by agricultural groups and the Southern San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, which represents water agencies and growers on the Kern, Tule, Kaweah and Kings rivers.

Another informational meeting will be held from 3-5 p.m. Thursday, November 29, at the Tulare County Farm Bureau, 737 North Ben Maddox Way in Visalia.


At the drawn-out August 21 hearing, criticism of and opposition to the Regional Board’s state-prepared draft regulations was often harsh. Many of those testifying were Friant water users.

Many growers complained they are being treated like criminals who are all guilty as polluters until proving themselves innocent. Others complained that farmers, especially those with small operations, are being choked by regulations.

There were also contentions from farmers that the proposed regulations could drive small growers out of business, lead to increases in farm size and continue a nationwide trend of relying on food produced beyond U.S. borders. Still others asserted they are being expected to resolve nitrate problems in groundwater that were created in some cases decades ago.

Some growers and production ag representatives charged the Regional Board staff with attempting to impose a “one size fits all” solution on growers even though problems may vary from area to area.

On the other hand, Laurel Firestone, co-director of the Visalia-based  Community Water Center and an advocate for disadvantaged communities, said the environmental justice movement seeks real farm-level changes, with Regional Board regulatory authority, effective monitoring and cleaning up older contamination.

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