Members of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board are expected to adopt a new Conditional Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges from Irrigated Lands when they meet March 7 to 9.
The multiday meeting is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday in the Watsonville City Council Chambers on the fourth floor of the new building at 275 Main St., Watsonville.
The new waiver is the primary item on the agenda, and the staff expects it will take all three days for the board to reach a decision on whether to adopt it as recommended or with additional changes.
Commonly referred to as the Agricultural Order or Ag Order, the conditional waiver is aimed at reducing pollution and contaminants that run off irrigated agricultural operations and end up in such surface waters as creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes and estuaries as well as groundwater basins.
The new version recommended for adoption by the staff has regulatory requirements that are largely the same as those of the current order that expires March 14, according to a report to the board.
However, proposed Ag Order 3.0 expands some of those requirements to more ranches and farms while at the same time reducing or eliminating some of the requirements that were included in Ag Order 2.0, according to the report.
The changes are the result of input from stakeholders at meetings, comments on the draft order released Nov. 1 and directions from water board members combined with a staff analysis of data and information generated by implementing the existing Ag Order 2.0.
Among other changes, Ag Order 3.0 expands the number of farms and ranches required to report the total amount of nitrogen applied to fields from 600 to 1,700 and changes the due date for reports from Oct. 1 to March 1, starting in 2018.
Requirements in Ag Order 2.0 that have been eliminated in the proposed new Ag Order include providing upstream and downstream photographs at each monitoring site and providing the names of adjacent water bodies in an electronic notice of intent to use any chemicals that might harm water quality.
Instead of requiring farmers to assess the risk of loading nitrogen to groundwater to determine if they had to report total nitrogen applied and develop an irrigation and nutrient management plan, Ag Order 3.0 specifies that determination will be made based on whether high-risk crops are being grown.
Ag Order 3.0 is described as an “interim order” because it has a term of three years instead of the usual five years for conditional waivers, the report said.
Board members asked for the shorter term because they anticipate the staff being able to incorporate the results of pending legal rulings and policy decisions, along with the results of an ongoing analysis of the State Water Resources Control Board Antidegradation Policy, sooner than the standard waiver term.
When that analysis yields results adequate for developing a long-term program, the staff will recommend revised requirements in Ag Order 4.0, the report said.
Those who wish to address the board during the hearing will generally be allowed three minutes to speak.
Presentation materials and requests for additional speaking time must be submitted by March 2 to John Robertson, executive officer for the Regional Water Quality Control Board, at email@example.com.
For more information, call the board office at 549-3140.