Farmers face new water runoff rules

Vineyard manager Ben Scorsur checks a drip line at Clos LaChance

Despite a tremendous appearance of farmers and members of the public in opposition to new rules regarding water runoff, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Board voted unanimously to pass the proposal that will require farmers to closely monitor their water runoff.

In a meeting in San Luis Obispo that lasted nearly 15 hours on Wednesday and Thursday, and was packed with 400 people on both sides of the issue, the board voted 7-0 to pass the ordinance, according to Gilroy farmer Pete Aiello, who attended the event.

The new rules will require farmers to report levels of toxicity in their water runoff, which is causing an urgent public health threat, according to Roger Briggs, executive officer at the regional water quality control board. Farmers say the rules won’t do much to improve water quality and will place financial burdens on growers. 

Aiello said that after about 80 speeches, many in opposition to the proposal, the board made some changes to the draft in response to the concerns from the agricultural community, but the majority of the proposal was passed as-is.

“I’m a farmer, I’m used to being accused of destroying the environment,” Aiello said, chuckling. “But some of these things they said were said (at the meeting) were just not true.”

One board member, Jean Pierre Wolff, of San Luis Obispo, was required to abstain from voting because he is a grower himself.

The proposal was in development for more than three years and was revised in response to more than 2,000 letters from the community during that time, Briggs said. 

The proposal is fully in effect but Aiello said the board decided “nothing is set in stone,” noting that the rules can changed at anytime if they are found to be unproductive. 

“I expected this to happen, but I’m still disappointed,” Aiello said.