Farmers say no to water runoff rules

Three year old Bridget Moore of Los Gatos is lead by Shannon McPartland of Morgan Hill during a pony ride at Uesugi Farms Pumpkin Park in Morgan Hill. 10.8.11 Photo by Aimee Santos

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Board will vote Wednesday on a controversial proposal for new rules dealing with water runoff from farms to improve the quality of public water supply.

Farmers and growers are asking that the board delay passing the rules, saying the proposal at its current state is ineffective in improving water supply and will place unnecessary burdens on growers. But they aren’t particularly hopeful.

“I don’t think there will be anything presented by the agricultural community that will change their minds on Wednesday,” said Pete Aiello, bell pepper farmer and owner of Uesugi Farms in Gilroy. “We’re going to keep fighting until the last second no matter what,” he said.

Aiello said the regional water board is “light years away” from a workable order, and that the rules, which he said will place heavy financial burdens on farmers, will inevitably put some farmers out of business.

The rules will require growers to monitor runoff that seeps into the soil, creating an urgent public health threat of toxicity levels in the water supply, according to Roger Briggs, executive officer at the regional water quality control board.

Briggs said the time to pass the proposal – which has been in development for more than three years – is long overdue.

“This has been an extensive collaborative process,” Briggs said. “We’ve made hundreds of revisions and have responded to 2,000 letters, making significant changes at each juncture. It’s hard to argue to that this has been an inadequate process.”

Jennifer Williams, executive director of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau, said that while water quality is an issue to be addressed, the rules proposed by the board don’t do a lot to help. Instead, she said, the rules will turn farmers into bookkeepers.

“The frustrating thing is that growers are happy to help improve water quality,” Williams said. “But these rules will just bog farmers down with so much monitoring and paperwork that they won’t have the resources to actually help improve things.”

Briggs acknowledges the proposal isn’t perfect, but said that the rules would actually lessen the current regulation for some farmers while targeting the farmers with only the most toxic water runoff.

Aiello said he plans to attend the meeting Wednesday, and hopes that the agricultural community will show up in masses to fight for the delay of the rules.

“The board needs to get their fingers into it and research so they can understand,” he said. “But unfortunately, their regulation is ahead of their science.”

If the board adopts the proposal Wednesday, it would be implemented over the next 30 days. The meeting, which is open to the public, starts at 9:30 a.m. at the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo.

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