News and Meetings
New Program Adopted by Regional Water Board Nov. 2020 -- No Minimum Acreage
Irrigated agriculture in Coachella Valley is now under a new General Order adopted November 12, 2020 by the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWB).
The new Order expands its reach beyond drain and surface water sampling to groundwater protection, including reporting of nitrogen fertilizer applications and setting up a groundwater trend monitoring network.
Administrative delays pushed back the adoption date which translates into more time for growers to prepare for the new reporting requirements. Coachella Valley Irrigated Lands Coalition (CVILC) has already begun its efforts to meet the new requirements.
A new addition to the CVILC management team is the recent hiring of Parry Klassen as Executive Director. Mr. Klassen will assist the board of directors in managing the program implementation and outreach. He is a consultant for water quality coalitions in the Central Valley where he is also a fruit grower.
Nitrogen Fertilizer Reporting Follows Other Agriculture Regions in California
The requirement to report nitrogen fertilizers applied to crops had its origins in the Central Valley. In 2012, the Regional Water Board (RWB) in Rancho Cordova adopted application reporting requirements for parcels in basins described as high vulnerability to groundwater contamination. On the Central Coast, the same reporting requirement started in 2013.
In the recently adopted Coachella Valley order, the first step required is developing a nitrogen reporting “template” and submitting it for approval to RWB by August 2021. CVILC will borrow from existing formats of other regions to develop a draft template for review by local agronomists, Farm Advisors and growers.
Once approved by RWB, Coachella Valley growers will be required to use the report for nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops harvested in 2022.
Member Compliance Assistance and Outreach
CVILC is developing a member outreach program to assist growers with the new reporting requirements contained in the new Order. In addition to phone assistance, CVILC will be holding a combination of virtual online meetings and as COVID restrictions are reversed, live meetings at local venues.
The workshops will focus on the new reporting requirements including: how to complete the nitrogen fertilizer reporting forms; filing an electronic notice of Intent (eNOI) for the new program; and posting information on the GeoTracker website.
Members will be notified of the workshops via postcards and email notifications. The first workshops will be scheduled in late Spring 2021.
CVILC Annual Dues Set At $5 per acre for 2020-21
Program expense increases and preparation for the new Order prompted the CVILC Board of Directors to increase dues for 2021 to $5/acre. More than 20% of the acreage fees goes to pay the State Water Board Irrigated Lands fee, set at $1.12 per acre for 2020-21. The State fee is assessed from all irrigated cropland in the State and is used to pay for Regional Water Board staff and its other program expenses. The rate was increased from $1.08 per acre in 2020.
Surface Water Sampling Reduced for 2021
A positive outcome of the new Order is that surface water sampling frequency is reduced from quarterly to twice annually. The same six sites sampled since 2010 will remain in the program.
A contentious new requirement is performing an annual “fish tissue analysis” of a species taken from at Coachella Valley Stormwater Channel at Lincoln Avenue. This addition to the new Order came late in the program development and was opposed by CVILC. Plans are to continue discussions with RWB and work to change the requirement to another approach, possibly sediment analysis for pesticides, an approach used in both the Central Valley and Central Coast.
Groundwater Trend Monitoring To Rely on Local Partnerships
Is groundwater quality in the aquifers underlying irrigated agriculture in the Coachella basin improving or getting worse? That question will eventually be answered specifically in the East Basin through a new requirement to set-up a network of wells sampled annually for nitrate. Fortunately, a well monitoring network is already in the works as a result of the Salt and Nutrient Management Plan monitoring program approved by the RWB in February. Early discussions with Coachella Valley Water District, a participating agency, are aimed to piggyback the new constituents onto the existing program that will track salts and nutrients throughout the Coachella Valley. A plan for the groundwater trend monitoring network is due to the Regional Water Board in November 2021.
CVILC Non-Members Could Be Target of RWB Enforcement Actions
Membership in CVILC enables growers to be in compliance with the new General Order adopted by the Regional Water Board in November 2020. Subject to new notice requirements, existing CVILC members will be automatically rolled into the new program in 2021. Growers who were past CVILC members or are new to the program will need to sign up with CVILC to be part of the third-party option.
The RWB has committed to undertaking follow-up with non-members, reviewing their options for compliance. If a grower is not part of CVILC, they have another option: file for an individual operation permit that includes setting up farm-specific monitoring plans and preparing detailed technical reports on potential discharges to surface water or groundwater that are specific to each field. Nitrogen fertilizer application reporting is also required with field identification and other permitee information, all of which becomes public information after filing.
An alternative to the individual permit is creating another third-party coalition to represent growers (other than CVILC).
CVILC reporting of member information on fertilizer applications uses anonymous identification; trend monitoring can also rely on representative monitoring versus sampling and reporting all well information for individual permit holders.
Growers who do not file will be subject to enforcement actions by the RWB including daily fines.
All commercial irrigated agriculture in the Coachella Valley is subject to the new requirements. There is no minimum acreage. Commercial irrigated agriculture is defined in the Order as owners/operators of irrigated land (canal & well water) who:
1) have a pesticide application permit;
2) file IRS Schedule 1040 F, or
3) sell directly i.e. farmers markets or direct to consumer.
Board of Directors
Ellen Lloyd Trover, President
John Powell, Secretary
Mike Terry, Treasurer
Parry Klassen, Executive Director
Lorrie Cooper, Manager
NONE SCHEDULED AT THIS TIME.
Coachella Valley Water District
51-501 Tyler Street entrance
PO BOX 645, INDIO, CALIFORNIA 92202-0645