Farm groups to water board: Farmers are an asset, not the enemy
» May 6, 2010 «
Central Coast family farmers and agricultural organizations say greater improvements in water quality can be achieved through flexibility and cooperation rather than through an approach that focuses on regulation and punishment. At a workshop in San Luis Obispo next week, they will urge a regional water board to accept an alternative water-quality plan for the Central Coast region.
A coalition of more than 50 farm groups and individual farmers will present their plan at a Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board workshop scheduled May 12. Coordinated by the California Farm Bureau Federation and the seven county Farm Bureaus in the region, the farm groups developed the plan in response to a regional water board proposal that they say will do little to enhance water quality while imposing "extensive and massive" recordkeeping requirements on farmers.
"Our goal is to show the water board that Central Coast farmers are an asset to the environment, not the enemy," Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau President Kevin Merrill said. "Working farms provide significant environmental benefits by maintaining open space, wildlife habitat and groundwater replenishment. Those environmental benefits will disappear if farms become choked by needless requirements that don't help our water quality."
Merrill said Central Coast farmers have worked consistently to improve water quality and had cooperated with the regional water board on those efforts. But he called the current proposal from the board staff "unworkable" because of arbitrary restrictions and impractical timelines.
Kari Fisher, an associate counsel in the California Farm Bureau Natural Resources and Environmental Division, will present the alternative proposal at the water board workshop.
"Our proposal will allow the water board to achieve the results it desires, while allowing farmers the flexibility they need to remain sustainable, both environmentally and economically," Fisher said.
Key features of the farm coalition's water quality plan include:
- Tailoring water quality improvements to the specific needs of individual farms, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach;
- A focus on education rather than on punishment, with farmers required to complete five hours of water-quality education;
- Continuation of a successful Cooperative Monitoring Program, supplemented by confidential, voluntary on-farm sampling conducted by farmers;
- Development of a groundwater management plan based on research conducted by local water agencies;
- Creation of a long-term water-quality plan to replace the current five-year programs.
"As long as farmers continue to take the steps needed to improve water quality, there is no need for the regional water board to impose arbitrary restrictions on family farms," Fisher said. "Farmers want to develop flexible practices that lead to water quality improvements."
The agricultural coalition includes the county Farm Bureaus in Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, plus organizations including Western Growers, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, the California Strawberry Commission and the Central Coast Vineyard Team.
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of 81,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top