Nitrate Study Impact Being Felt with Proposed State Legislation

January 9. 2014

The impact of the landmark UC Davis study on nitrate in drinking water, released in March 2012, is being felt throughout California agriculture as state legislators debate legislation addressing safe drinking water issues raised in the report. Gail Delihant, director of government affairs for the Western Growers Association, told those attending The Almond Conference session on rules and regulations that two key pieces of legislation are of particular interest to almond growers.

Assembly Bill 69, by Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno), would impose a 1% tax on all fertilizer sales, with the authority to increase the tax up to 4%, based on certain conditions, beginning in 2016. The measure is designed to help reduce the presence of nitrates in drinking water and to provide a funding source for safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities. The measure was introduced in the last session and is currently at the Senate Agriculture Committee awaiting further action by the legislature.

Assembly Bill 145, also by Assemblyman Perea, would move responsibility for safe drinking water away from the California Department of Public Health and over to the State Water Resources Control Board. “The governor is very supportive of this bill,” said Delihant. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) has indicated that she would like to achieve consensus with the agricultural community before moving the bill out of her committee.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) on Dec. 6 released its final report from a Nitrogen Tracking and Reporting Task Force that was asked to identify an appropriate nitrogen tracking and reporting system. The task force included stakeholders from agricultural organizations, academia, regulating agencies and the environmental advocacy community. The task force’s recommendations will now be presented to a panel of experts convened by the State Water Board, in coordination with the CDFA. The panel will assess existing agricultural nitrate control programs and may propose new measures for consideration by the regional water boards.

Looking at future issues, Delihant pointed to the Central Coast Groundwater Coalition, which has initiated a program involving testing of wells. “You can anticipate that program coming to the Central Valley,” she said. Such a program could involve notifying landowners when their well water exceeds safe drinking water standards, with a requirement that alternative water be provided for those affected.

Other potential legislation could include a bill that requires everyone to test their drinking water well and upload that data to a state website, and a measure that would require the reporting of well elevation levels.

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