San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

By Vicky Boyd

Changes to the Irrigated Lands Management Program that will require domestic well testing and water-use reporting could burden growers with more paperwork and higher costs when they likely take effect in 2019.

"All of these different regulations are creating more and more paperwork," said San Joaquin Farm Bureau Second Vice President Ken Vogel, a cherry and walnut grower near Linden. "I had to hire a person to keep up with all of the paperwork and make sure it's done correctly. And it just adds more and more costs to the farming operation."

The revisions are the result of a State Water Resources Control Board ruling earlier this year after more than a two-year battle. In 2016, three petitioners challenged the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition's general waste discharge requirements that are part of the irrigated lands program.

In its ruling, the state board made most of the revisions "precedential," meaning they apply to all 30-plus of the state's water quality coalitions, including the Stockton-based San Joaquin County and Delta Water Quality Coalition.

Each coalition will now have to incorporate the changes into its waste discharge requirements and have them approved by the respective regional water quality control board, said Mike Wackman, San Joaquin County Water Coalition executive director. Based on current information, he expects the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board will review San Joaquin County's plan within the next six to 12 months.

The new requirements likely will apply to the 2019 season, with the additional information reported in early 2020, he said.

Among the major changes are: • Beginning in 2019, growers will have to record the amount of water, its source or sources and estimated evapotranspiration for each field. That's on top of the existing nitrogen-use reporting requirements.

The information will be included in the nitrogen management plan, which will be renamed the Nitrogen Management and Irrigation Plan. "That's something somebody prepares and keeps on site with the grower," Wackman said. A separate Nitrogen Management Summary Report is submitted to the coalition the spring following the previous growing season.

"It includes how much you applied, how much of that was organic, how much is in your irrigation water and how much of the nitrogen was removed by the crop that was harvested," Wackman said. 

Although researchers have a fairly good idea how much nitrogen almonds, walnuts and corn use, he said they don't have as much information about most other crops.

"We have some preliminary studies, and that's something the coalitions are trying to develop," Wackman said. 

• Beginning in 2019, coalitions will have to report nitrogen application data and management practices to the Central Valley Water Resources Control Board on a grower- and field-level basis. Coalitions will issue growers unique anonymous identifiers, so the groups can report the data to the state without names or parcel numbers.

In the past, coalitions aggregated the information and provided a summary to the regional board. But state water board members said they believed the field-by-field information would allow them to analyze whether the regulatory program was effectively protecting water quality.

• Beginning in 2019, growers will have to test on-farm drinking water from wells for nitrate. The testing must be done annually, and grower will first have to report results in early 2020.

Vogel, who lives on the edge of a small, 2-acre walnut orchard, said he also would have to begin testing his own well annually. In addition, he would have to test the well that serves a rental house in one of his other orchards near Linden.

• Beginning in 2020, growers in low vulnerability areas will have to follow the same nitrogen reporting requirements as those in high vulnerability areas, with some exceptions.

With the recent changes to the irrigated lands program also will come new reporting forms, Wackman said.

 

"We'll have to see what the forms are going to actually look like and what they're going to have," he said, adding he expects drafts within the next six months.

Once the regional water board approves a coalition's updated waste discharge plan, it's up to the coalition to decide the best way to collect the new information. Wackman said the San Joaquin County coalition will draw from previous experience and use methods that worked when the original nitrogen reporting requirements were implemented a few years ago.

He expects the San Joaquin County coalition will hold grower education workshops once the new reporting requirements are finalized. "A lot of the stuff growers are doing already, like farm evaluations and the nitrogen management plan," he said. "The workshops will look at how you fill out the new forms and how to figure out the new things."

Growers who have gone through self-certification are already a step ahead, since those classes dealt with irrigation and nitrogen management, Wackman said. 

Under the irrigated lands program, growers can either have a nitrogen management plan prepared by a Certified Crop Adviser or they can do it themselves, providing they first successfully completed the self-certification program.