Partnership and Commitment Key to Improving Agricultural Water Quality

Friday, Jun 22nd, 2012

Problems get press, performance doesn’t. I want to talk about the performance of the Sacramento Valley Coalition (Coalition) and Colusa Glenn over the last 9 years.

Recently Glenn County grower Larry Domenighini, who chairs the Colusa Glenn Subwatershed Program, testified at the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board workshop on the Regional Board’s proposal for a new Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP). The ILRP as proposed for the East San Joaquin watershed, will include groundwater quality monitoring, expanded programmatic requirements on growers to report on farm management practices protective of surface and groundwater quality and preparation of an Annual Nitrogen Budget. The testimony he gave was to underscore why those requirements weren’t necessary when the Regional Board develops a Sacramento Valley version of the ILRP.

Problems get press, performance doesn’t. I want to talk about the performance of the Sacramento Valley Coalition (Coalition) and Colusa Glenn over the last 9 years. We have developed and implemented a very successful results oriented program for identifying and solving water quality issues in the Sacramento Valley. How are we being successful?

We are successful because we are good stewards. The Coalition has nearly 1.2 million acres and over 8,000 growers and wetlands managers enrolled, reaching from the Delta to the Oregon Border, from Lake County to Sierra County, from the valley floor up into the foothills. The extensive monitoring conducted over the last eight years shows one thing: surface water quality is very good in the entire Sacramento Valley, with few problems identified. Last year, as in previous years, less than 2% of our pesticide water samples detected pesticides. Toxicity resulting from agriculture is low. In 2011, out of the 380 aquatic and sediment tests performed by the Coalition, there was only one pesticide caused toxicity. There are many monitored waterbodies that have never had a pesticide or toxicity exceedance. The few water quality issues that have been identified are being resolved in an efficient and economical manner under the requirements of the existing Program: we are monitoring drainages, identifying areas of concern, disseminating the monitoring results to our members and the public, and are working together with our partners to implement management practices to remedy the problems.

We are successful because the Coalition has worked to implement an approach that favors face to face grower meetings, educating them on pesticide and toxicity exceedances, and in creating improvement in water quality. Face to face communication is what works in our small rural communities. It is the only thing that works consistently. We have family, friends, and neighbors working together through a flexible, locally customized program.

We are successful because we are building partnerships. We have developed productive partnerships with the local Ag Commissioners, UC Cooperative Extension, county Farm Bureaus, elected officials, Resource Conservation Districts, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, commodity groups, irrigation, water, and drainage districts, waterfowl organizations, local watershed groups, and with Regional Board Staff. However, our most important partnership is with the landowners and growers. We have been able to implement the irrigated lands program in a manner that is effective, efficient, and economical because we, the Coalition members both individually and collectively, are dedicated to resolving our water quality issues. Our partnerships are the key to our success.

We are successful because both the State Board and Regional Board have recognized the value of a collaborative, results oriented approach. In the late 1990s the State Board and Glenn County Department of Ag obtained grant funding for a watershed strategy and stewardship program that was known locally as the Glenn County Surface Water Stewardship Program. The main activity of this program was the development of a pesticide management program whose goals were to educate Glenn County growers about pest management strategies, pesticide application methods and on-site practices to minimize pesticide runoff, thereby improving water quality. Outreach efforts included field days, farm tours, public meetings, newsletters, grower handouts and manuals. Demonstration sites of best management practices were developed and used as part of this program. The Glenn County Surface Water Stewardship Program provided a successful, results oriented template that paved the way for a smooth and successful implementation of the irrigated lands program in our area because it emphasized one on one communication that enhanced the partnerships that are the key to success.

We are successful because of the MOU Pilot Program between the Glenn and Butte Ag Commissioners, Regional Board, State Board, and DPR that resulted in valuable assistance in documenting management practices for specific drainages in Glenn, Colusa, Butte, Tehama, and Sutter counties. The technical assistance from the Glenn County Ag Department was a vital contribution to success. Thru this partnership we have been able to effectively implement our chlorpyrifos management plan for Walker Creek. To paraphrase the Regional Board’s Executive Officer’s final report on the pilot program, the Commissioners’ staff are a “familiar and trusted entity that growers deal with on a regular basis”, and “their ability to interact with other stakeholders in the agricultural community … is unparalleled and unique.” Once again, the one on one communication and interaction between the partners-the growers and Ag Department staff, was a key to success.

Can we as farmers do a better job? Yes we can- we are committed to that.

Now, as we finally move into the long term program and add a groundwater component, we ask the Regional Board to recognize the uniqueness of the Sacramento Valley and the good groundwater quality that it enjoys. We hope that you will appreciate the results oriented program we have built and the partnerships that we have nurtured over the last decade and recognize that it is the template of success for the Sacramento Valley.

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