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California farmers, ecologists square off over drinking water pollution

Central valley farm Anne Cusack LAT fotog weedpatch ca

Should farmers in the Central Valley, California's richest agricultural region, be required to monitor and clean up groundwater pollution from their operations? The issue will be taken up by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board at a three-day meeting in Rancho Cordova beginning June 8.

Under the proposed regulations, farmland would be classified based on the contamination risk. Farms considered most likely to pollute groundwater would have to take certain steps to reduce fertilizer and other agricultural runoff. If passed, the new rules would affect 35,000 growers who work about 7 million acres of irrigated land.

Environmentalists faced off against farm groups in an all-day public hearing Thursday in Rancho Cordova. Farmers said that the regulations would be expensive and burdensome.  Environmental and community groups said that current rules don't protect drinking water from pesticides, fertilizers and other agricultural runoff.

"Runoff from irrigated agriculture is the largest source of pollution to Central Valley waterways and the Delta," said the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and more than 70 other state and local groups in a joint statement. "This pollution is one of the principal causes of the collapse of Central Valley fisheries.

"Inexplicably, irrigated agriculture remains exempt from requirements to monitor discharges and identify measure to reduce pollution," the groups said, adding that such rules have "long been applicable to every other segment of society, from municipalities to industry to mom and pop businesses."

However, more than a dozen growers of rice, hay, grain and other crops in the Sacramento Valley
watershed, submitted a letter saying they were "adamantly opposed" to a requirement for electronic reports on their discharges. "Being a small diversified farmer has become increasingly difficult with regulatory burdens exploding over these last few years," the letter said.

It added that complying would be "an impossibility" for roughly half of its 600 ranchers and farmers. Thirty percent of the farmers protesting do not have Internet access and do not own a computer, the letter said, adding that another 20% use dial-up access or must drive to a free Wi-Fi establishment.


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-- Margot Roosevelt

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Farm workers in Weedpatch, Ca., in the Central Valley, where agricultural runoff is polluting groundwater and poisoning fisheries. Credit: Anne Cusack \ Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (27)

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Atrazine herbicide is used on strawberries and other produce causes prostate and breast cancers, it feminizes me and can cause insulin resistance (obesity). Then there is chromium in water. Go to Costco and read the safety notices that it not safe to eat more than once a week because of high mercury levels.
Let's face it. How many people intentionally or agree to allowing their babies to be fed pesticides, mercury, chromium or petroleum distillates? Not if they love them and want them to live a long, painless natural life. Way too many people are dying from cancers and pesticides in water is one of the reasons.

Just do a search on water pollution and click on "images". Ma

So we now that the EPA.GOV/REGION9 monitors radiation in the atmosphere day by day and makes it public. When we breath something, eat and drink we have a right to know what is in it......Your tax dollars entitle you. Please wake up. This will be swept under the rug and we will bio-accumulate radioactive chems get cancer and well. God speed EPA REGION 9. inforwarsdotcom. disciople07athotmaildotcom.

Yes. I could however support some minor exceptions for small family operated farms of 400 acres or less but not for any farming of size. There are obviously areas that should not be farmed and types of farming that need to be modified in order to continue. Institution of controls will provide practical limitations on land that should not be farmed.

if only there were some way to only poison republicans with industrial poisons, I would be fine with it. they can pay 99 cents for a head of lettuce and drink pesticide and breathe pure soot, we can pay $1.99 and drink clean water and breathe fresh air. it's what they want, it's what we want, and it would go a long way towards allowing natural selection to run its course.

it's when they start poisoning US that they need to be stopped, and that's the problem. their rights end where mine begin, and i have a right to not be poisoned so they can have their ugly mcmansions and SUVs.

So, the principle here is that people do NOT have the right to safe drinking water. And growers and unmentioned industrialists have the right to pollute as pleases their profitability. AND that government must go along with them.

That is pure unadulterated fascism. Business running govt over the health of the great mass of people.

If ag can't overcome its addiction to pollutants, it's time we gut ag and institute safety. If ag can't grow food without poisoning water, it's time we throw those folks out of business and mandate the void their blessed departure will create will be filled by people following new law, with harsh punishment if they recreate the former farmers' bad, evil, dirty, killing habits. The marriage between ag and industrial pollution must end. And it can, if enough people demanded it.

@ Peter

Most municipal sewage plants are held to strict nitrogen limits. Have you ever heard of denitrification, if you mix your nitrates and raw, nitrogen containing organic sewage it volatilizes the nitrogen into the air. About 78% of atmospheric air is nitrogen. Check out NPDES permits, they most certainly limit nitrogen discharges from sewage plants.

Dear Ms. Roosevelt:
Your article's title is a gross misuse of the scientific term "ecologist." An ecologist is a scientist in the branch of biology that studies relationships among living organisms and their environment. The "ecologists" you cite are militant, partisan, taxpayer-subsidized eco-agitators and lawyers -- not ecologists.
Is this, yet again, the left's word switch rehab: where liberal dresses up as progressive, global warming as climate change, abortion as choice, spending as investments, taxes as savings, partisan as comprehensive, illegal immigrant as undocumented, unions as workers, minority privileges as rights, etc.


I love these folks. They get taxpayer-subsidized water,
they're responsible for all kinds of downstream pollution and its effects, but they don't want to be part of the solution. And, really, professional businesses that don't have computers in this day and age? Pardon me while I laugh. Hey, if they don't think there's a problem, why not force them to re-use their waste field water and use it for their own personal drinking, washing, and cooking needs.
THAT would get their attention and get them to re-think their selfish position!

No, they should be able to poison everyone without fear of punishment. That's the American Way.


I am currently doing a policy report on access to drinking water in the Central Valley, specifically relating to groundwater contamination. Can you please let me know what school you visited that needed to bring in water?

afarber87 @ucla. edu

It's all about the "eco-terrorists" in LA and SF right, right Bruno Ekk and Paul Taylor? What about the fact that these people in the Central Valley don't have CLEAN DRINKING WATER because some else, yes, those perfect angel hard-working American farmers, polluted their only source.

I recently visited a community where the entire school had to truck in bottled water because there were so many nitrates from the agricultural pollution in the ground water. How is that fair?

Why shouldn't these farmers pay to clean up the mess they make, just like everyone else?

from your profit, clean up you mess. it's that simple. if we don't keep the earth happy, she will revolt. remember that.

Should farmers in the Central Valley, California's richest agricultural region, be required to monitor and clean up groundwater pollution from their operations?

Why is this even a question.
Farmers have been polluting and killing wildlife and natural bodies of water for decades, now they should be made to start cleaning up their killing messes.

Water is a precious and scarce resource. I was reading about an article that Coca Cola for example (and same for Pepsi I presume) is using about 3 liters of fresh water to produce a 1l bottle. It also describes that water from a leaking tap can add up to 625l per month. That is more than half the water usage of one person. Just imaging the number of leaking taps....

Credit where credit is due. Source of the full article here. It gives some amazing facts and shows there is still a lot we can do ourselves to help tackling these issues.

@ Bill,

Yes, the SJQ Valley farmers need to create more jobs for illegals and pay them a pittance.

All the Patriotic Republican SJQ Valley should be screaming for a round up of all the illegals and lobby to have them shipped back across the border. Oh, wait. That would cut into their profits. Ummmm, never mind. Blame the Sierra Club. Easy pickings.

Hipocrites to the 9th degree.


It's time for the real, true costs of all products, even basic necessities like food, to be revealed. If the farmers need to raise prices for their products, so be it. Who else will pay to solve the problem of polluted water? Should people in the area truck in water?

Also, it's increadible these farmers are claiming they don't have the basic computer literacty to comply. That's rediculous. Personal computers became common in people's homes 20 years ago. Certainly, if you want to run a business you should be a little ahead of that curve. Give me a break.

I say leave the farmers alone - they are the most hard-working and productive Americans anywhere. To burden them with ueber-regulation and stifling demands will drive up food prices and most certainly drive many into bankruptcy. Farmers in general are excellent stewards of the land and they most certainly don't need some eco-green environmentalist bureaucrat in some office in LA, SF, Berkley, or Westwood to tell them what to do. I'll say it again: LEAVE THEM ALONE and we will all be better off.

The crime is - that these folks are forced between making money
or poisoning themeselves

Clean Water! What will those environmentalists think of next? Clean air? They'll destroy the world!!!!

Why aren't these guy's taking on Ethanol production and the waste/pollution it generates? Go to the mid-west and fix that please, it's a much bigger problem. Besides, you've already destroyed much of the Central Valley, all to save a little bait-fish. Funny how the LAT doesn't inform us how that went: It made no difference for the fish, still in decline, but it has destroyed many communities and families and raised food prices for everyone. Leave the Central Valley alone so it can recover.

Since the government cut off water to the California farmers, we are forced to buy produce from Mexico and South America. Please let us know how we can help bring our great agricultural area back. How about a March on Sacramento?

anything to destroy small business and farmers - done by folks who either are independently wealthy (inherited mostly) and other angry misguided jealous socialists that have never done anything significant other than be a career student. most of these controversialists have no idea what it means to have to work to achive something and keep a business going - its just one big banquet table at their conventions. there needs to be job creation not more invented controversy from outside trouble makers.

Short answer to the first line in article, should agribusiness be required to clean up its act is absolutely yes. The only question should be how.

We all produce nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste in our sewage, but few know that this waste under the Clean Water Act does not have to be treated, while nitrogenous waste in sewage first hydrolyzes into ammonia and then is oxidized by bacteria to nitrates. This process requires, just like fecal waste, oxygen. However in all its forms (organic nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates) it is a fertilizer for algae and other plant growth and thus contributes to eutrophication, often resulting in dead zones.
The reason that EPA never addressed this nitrogenous waste in municipal sewage (while it represents about 40% of the oxygen exertion demand) is the incorrect application of an essential test developed in 1920. Even tough EPA already in 1984 acknowledged the incorrect application of this test, it never corrected its application and in 1987, of the record, EPA acknowledged that this test and the regulations should be corrected, but at the same time also claiming that this was impossible as it required a reeducation and even re-tooling of an entire industry. (
The reason, more likely, is the fact that not only much better sewage treatment (including nitrogenous waste) was available, but actually would have cost less to built and operate.
Clearly EPA (and others) try to cover up their mistakes, while without correcting this test we never will clean up our open waters. It is time to hold EPA accountable!

So Paul, is your water clean?

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and their ilk are amoung the most litigious of the militant eco-groups. They will use any monitoring data as a basis for law suits, such as "citizen suits," were eco-groups exploit minor regulatory infractions to get Federal Court awards that punish free enterprise -- adding costs to all goods and services. Free media coverage of these green litigators is their principle fund raising vehicle.
U.S. eco-groups operate on annual budgets of over $1.5 billion dollars to spread fear and green propaganda.
Green-obsessed bureaucrats and litigious eco-groups have become an "axis of antagonism" that we can no longer afford.


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