Imperial farmers deal with similar water challenges

Issue Date: June 25, 2008

Although the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board has not officially adopted an Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, that does not mean farmers in the region have fewer water quality issues to contend with. In the Imperial Valley, for example, irrigation tailwater from fields contributes sediment and other elements to the agricultural drains and the New and Alamo rivers, all of which discharge into the Salton Sea. The tailwater carries salts, nutrients and pesticide residue.

To address these problems, the regional board collaborated with the Imperial County Farm Bureau to implement a "conditional prohibition" as part of its basin plan, which is a regulatory document used for planning purposes throughout the region.

"From a practical perspective, it's like a waiver but not quite," Jose Angel, assistant executive officer for the regional board, said of the conditional prohibition.

The prohibition says farmers cannot violate water quality objectives contained in the basin plan. It also requires them to implement water quality improvement plans for their farms. To be in compliance, farmers were encouraged to participate in the voluntary TMDL (total maximum daily load) program, which specifies the maximum amount of sediment that their agricultural drains could discharge into the two rivers.

Angel said the regional board took this approach because "we felt we could have more bang for our buck by working with the farmers with a conditional prohibition that carries a similar effect as a waiver but without the hefty fees."

He said so far the program is working well for the region, not only in terms of the 99 percent compliance rate but also in terms of the valley's water quality improvements. By using best management practices and tweaking other methods they were already using, farmers were able to reduce large amounts of silt in their irrigation runoff from going down the drain.

The program has been so successful, in fact, that in 2004, the governor recognized the effort with an Environmental and Economic Leadership Award to the Imperial County Farm Bureau. Two years later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also honored the Imperial County Farm Bureau with the 2006 Environmental Award.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.