Monday, March 12, 2018

Growers Are Banning Together to Protect Water Quality

Water is always a big subject among farmers, especially during the recent years of drought.
Water quality, though, has been a big topic for decades in farm country.  And in the past decade, the rules have become even more stringent.

Here is what the state Water Board says: “A range of pollutants can be found in runoff from irrigated lands, such as pesticides, fertilizers, salts, pathogens, and sediment. At high enough concentrations, these pollutants can harm aquatic life or make water unusable for drinking water or agricultural uses. The Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program was initiated in 2003 to prevent agricultural runoff from impairing surface waters, and in 2012, groundwater regulations were added to the program.”
Growers are required to monitor irrigation runoff.
Growers that irrigate their crops need to enroll in the state-mandated program. Otherwise, they are subject to hefty fines.What does this all mean? These growers are required to monitor runoff from their land, install monitoring wells and submit reports such as nitrogen management plans.
Meeting these requirements can be an onerous task. Moreover, doing your own groundwater monitoring can be quite expensive.

That’s where water quality coalitions come into play. Farmer-created groups such as the Westside San Joaquin River Watershed Coalition are formed to economically monitor waterways and administer the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program. They work with growers to follow best management practices to prevent water pollution from nutrients, pesticides and other crop protection chemicals. The groups also prepare regional plans to address water quality problems.

 Growers follow BMPs to protect the groundwater.
The Westside Coalition was organized under the San Joaquin Valley Drainage Authority. The organization boasts 1,683 growers who farm 460,000 acres between the San Joaquin River and Interstate 5. The group monitors 17 different tributaries, checking monthly for pesticides and toxicity to fish and other aquatic life.

“Growers are doing the best to their ability to protect groundwater. It requires a lot of effort on your part,” Orvil McKinnis, Westside Coalition project manager told a group of growers during a meeting in Firebaugh.

Lawn fertilizers can impact waterways.
McKinnis said nitrates in the groundwater can come from many sources, including homeowners fertilizing their lawns. “Everyone is making an impact on groundwater. Because you use it (nitrogen fertilizers) in large quantities you get picked on.”  (Nitrogen that is not used by crops can convert into nitrates and pollute groundwater.)

On the good news front, McKinnis said diazinon pollution has vanished. The last time diazinon was detected in the local waterways was 2012.  “Chlorpyrifros still shows up. Everyone in the state is looking at this,” he said.

Chlorpyrifos, a broad spectrum pesticide, has become a hot political issue on the federal and state levels. Some states are moving to ban the chemical. At times, growers seem to get caught in the middle of this issue.

“Growers use it,” McKinnis said. However, “some (people) are convinced you are applying it at night by the drum loads. We know that’s not the case.”

FIELD DAY: Almond growers can get off to a good start this season by attending a field day that will focus on disease, fungicide, pest and nutrient management on March 21 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 W. Shaw, Fresno. Speakers are David Doll, a Merced County University of California Cooperative Extension pomologist, and Mae Culumber, UCCE nut crop specialist, in Fresno County. Doll will review bloomtime diseases and chemical choices, including reduced risk choices and proper selection of fungicides. He also will discuss irrigation management in a dry year. Culumber will offer tips about nutrient management to minimize disease and pest outbreaks. For more information, contact San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or at 


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