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On February 8, 2016, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) released a draft order (Draft Order) modifying the Waste Discharge Requirements General Order No. R5-2012-0116 for Growers within the Eastern San Joaquin River Watershed that are Members of the Third-Party Group (General WDRs). The General WDRs represent a significant element of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s (Regional Board) long-term irrigated lands regulatory program, regulating discharges from irrigated lands to groundwater and surface water within the Eastern San Joaquin watershed. The Regional Board adopted the General WDRs on December 7, 2012, after which several parties petitioned to the State Board. Because the State Board was unable to address the petitions in the timeframe allotted to the State Board, they granted “own motion review” of the General WDRs on August 5, 2014. The Draft Order is intended to resolve these petitions and, if adopted, would give precedential direction to the Central Valley Regional Board with respect to the General WDRs, as well as direction to other regional water quality control boards regarding irrigated lands regulatory programs in general.
In summary, the General WDRs impose requirements on individual growers (Members) to implement best management practices, conduct farm evaluations, and prepare nitrogen and sediment control management plans. The General WDRs permit a coalition of growers (i.e., the “Third Party”) to assist in the implementation of the General WDRs, and to report information and data gathered pursuant to the terms of the General WDRs in aggregated formats. The Third Party also conducts education and outreach programs, and performs surface water and groundwater monitoring throughout the watershed.
Subsequent to the adoption of the General WDRs, in a related effort regarding nitrates in groundwater, the State Board convened an Agricultural Expert Panel to consider questions regarding agricultural nitrate control programs. The panel presented its report to the State Board on September 23, 2014, which included recommendations for irrigated lands regulation. In the Draft Order, the State Board indicates its intent to implement some of the Panel’s recommendations in the proposed revisions to the General WDRs. Further, the State Board explains that its conclusions in the final order that results from these proceedings will be precedential and apply statewide. The significant changes proposed by the State Board to the General WDRs are summarized below:
The State Board will be scheduling a public workshop on the Draft Order on either March 15th or March 16th. Written comments on the Draft Order must be submitted by noon on April 8, 2016. The State Board is encouraging comments on specific reporting provisions, and in its public notice, requests input on several reporting alternatives, including alternatives removing the location identification requirements.
For more information on the Draft Order and proposed changes to the irrigated lands regulatory program, please contact Tess Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or Brittany Lewis-Roberts at email@example.com.
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