Farmers at Ag Order 4.0 meeting

More than 50 farmers from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties attended a November 2018 meeting in Santa Maria to learn about the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board's process for developing Ag Order 4.0.

A stipulated judgment in a lawsuit over a regulation to control pollution in runoff from agricultural irrigation systems has extended the expiration date for Agricultural Order 3.0 to Jan. 31, 2021.

The new expiration date will give the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board a longer period to develop and adopt replacement Ag Order 4.0, giving farmers extra time before the more restrictive regulations become effective.

Eleven agricultural, fishing and environmental groups filed the suit against the Regional Water Quality Control Board over Ag Order 3.0, formally known as the Conditional Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges from Irrigated Lands, that was adopted in March 2017 for a three-year term.

Ag orders regulate runoff or, more accurately, contaminants in runoff from irrigated agricultural lands in order to protect the quality of both groundwater and surface water.

Ag Order 3.0 requires farmers to monitor runoff, contamination in surface and groundwater, develop and implement mitigation measures and file reports with the regional water board.

Critics on the agricultural side say Ag Order 3.0 is onerous, greatly increasing farmers' costs and making it harder to survive, much less make a profit. Those on the environmental side say the regulation doesn’t go far enough toward protecting water resources.

According to the stipulated judgment entered in Sacramento County Superior Court, the petitioners and plaintiffs reached the agreement, in part, to limit the costs and time involved in litigating the suit in court and to allow the regional water board to focus its efforts on developing Ag Order 4.0.

In addition, they agreed the order was similar to one already reviewed and invalidated by the court in another filed against the State Water Resources Control Board.

Both sides agreed to stipulate to the lawsuit’s first cause of action — that Ag Order 3.0 did not comply with the water board’s Policy for Implementation and Enforcement of the Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program — while dropping the other causes of action.

Regional water board staff have been working to develop Ag Order 4.0 to replace the existing version when it expires in March 2020, and the initial draft was expected to be released this year.