Throughout California, groundwater nitrate contamination from agriculture is costing families, local governments and the state tens of millions of dollars a year. As an acute contaminant, nitrate poses great health risks to communities, especially to pregnant women and young babies. In February, after almost three years of review, the State Water Resources Control Board issued an updated draft general order regulating agricultural pollution of groundwater. This order has the potential to set the state on track to reduce nitrate pollution from agriculture.
CWC and our allies worked hard to ensure the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) would regulate groundwater pollution from agriculture. However, as currently designed, the ILRP does not provide the field-level data that is vital to measuring and regulating nitrate pollution from agriculture.
What’s proposed in the draft order is the bare minimum first step to start to get data about how current agricultural practices contribute to groundwater pollution. The new draft order allows the data that farmers are already reporting to be available to the public so that the state, researchers, and communities can understand the dynamics of nitrate use. Transparent data about multi-year nutrient loading is vital to successful local management of water quality and successful management throughout the Central Valley.
Nitrate pollution already contaminates the drinking water relied on by a quarter of a million Californians. Unless we prevent ongoing contamination, by 2050, nearly 80 percent of the residents in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley will be impacted by nitrate-contaminated drinking water. It’s time to provide safe, affordable drinking water to communities that are still lugging gallons of water into their homes every week. And to ensure a livable future for residents of our state's agricultural regions, where hundreds if not thousands of wells have had to be closed due to nitrate pollution, creating an extra financial burden on our communities.
CWC and our allies across the state are analyzing the draft general order and have spoken before the California Department of Food and Agriculture about the need for adequate data and transparency to understand nitrate pollution and work toward solutions. The revised order needs to ensure measurable and enforceable protections, and we look forward to working with the State Water Board to get it right.
The State Water Resources Control Board will hold two public workshops on the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed Agricultural Order. The first will be on May 4th in Sacramento, and the second will be on May 17th in Fresno. Public comments on the proposed order are due by May 18th. If you would like to learn more and get involved in CWC's work to advance more sustainable agriculture, please contact CWC's Jenny Rempel at 916-706-3346.