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No Love for the Ag Waiver: Ag and Enviros Both Appeal

Sara Rubin, Monterey County Weekly News Blog

The unanimity that appeared to end three contentious years of deliberations over agricultural runoff regulations only lasted a month.

About a dozen agricultural groups, including the Monterey County Farm Bureau, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms, have all appealed to the State Water Quality Control Board, asking them to overturn the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board's 6-0 approval.

So have environmental groups, which have pushed for tighter regulations of nitrates (contained in fertilizers) and certain pesticides throughout the process.

A petition filed Monday by Monterey Coastkeeper, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper contends the regional board erred by backing off in setting a specific standard for nitrates. "They replaced a 'must' with a 'we sorta kinda hope,' says Steve Shimek, executive director of Monterey Coastkeeper.

The appeal drills into a specific change in the final adopted regulations, generally known as the "agricultural waiver," regarding target nitrate levels monitored on the largest farms and worst polluters.

"By replacing the word 'meet' with 'make progress,' the Regional Board effectively eliminated any requirement to satisfy nutrient ratio balancing targets," the appeal states. This easing of nitrate cutbacks violates California water code, according to the appeal, which elaborates on the negative health effects associated with nitrate contamination in groundwater.

Meanwhile, agricultural interests contend the ag waiver as adopted won't improve water quality, only increase farmers' monitoring burden. In their appeal, they argue the board was biased toward environmental groups, citing language that was added in last-minute which had been provided to board staff by Shimek.

"Frankly, agriculture bringing up improprieties, what that shows is that their actual petition has no merit as a matter of law," Shimek says.

As to whether he committed any improprieties by recommending amendments to regional board staff, "Absolutely 100 percent not," he says. "This process is a text war; the staff proposes their version and then both sides present how they would like to see the text changed and modified.

"I am very comfortable saying that 10 to one, agriculture got more changes."

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