Coalition will test groundwater on Central Coast


Issue Date: September 11, 2013
By Kate Campbell

To increase understanding of groundwater quality and how Central Coast aquifers work, farmers and ranchers in four counties have formed a coalition for cooperative well-water testing to share costs and reporting requirements. The new organization provides services to landowners and growers in Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, intended to assist with regulatory compliance.

Cooperative organizers—including Farm Bureaus in the four counties, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and Western Growers—said testing services meet reporting requirements under the 2012 Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program adopted by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. The cooperative's funding to meet program requirements comes from member dues.

Early participation estimates suggest owners of as many as 150,000 acres could join the water quality testing effort, which will be known as the Central Coast Groundwater Coalition.

Organizers say well sampling will provide farmers, regulators and the public with a better understanding of local aquifers and regional geology—including depth to water, well perforation levels and quality parameters for nitrates and total dissolved solids.

From a farmer perspective, Uesugi Farms general manager Pete Aiello said, the testing program brings a wider breadth of knowledge about local groundwater and its quality.

"We can then share that information with each other and learn things we wouldn't know if we were going it alone," said Aiello, who serves as president of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau. "By collaborating, we pool our resources and hire experts like hydrogeologists, water consultants and those who've organized water testing coalitions before."

He noted that the executive director of the Central Coast Groundwater Coalition will be Parry Klassen, a Central Valley fruit grower who also manages the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, another agricultural water testing group.

Aiello said he anticipates the data quality on the area's groundwater resources will be very good, yielding information not before available that will help improve decision making about future groundwater-protection measures.

"This kind of cooperative testing program benefits farmers, the regional water board and the public," Aiello said. "Everybody wins through this approach."

Central Coast farms and ranches identified as "Tier 3" under the 2012 regulatory program must provide information annually about nitrate ranges in primary irrigation sources. The cooperative program aims to fulfill monitoring and reporting requirements for its participants.

"Participating in the cooperative has multiple benefits," said Abby Taylor-Silva of the Grower-Shipper Association. "By combining forces, members can ensure compliance while generating high-quality data about the aquifer. The collected data also will provide an accurate characterization of the groundwater basins for future water quality discussions."

Should testing of drinking water wells reveal nitrate levels exceeding standards, Taylor-Silva said samples may be tested for additional constituents and isotope testing may be used to understand the age and source of nitrates, such as from legacy or historical crop production, septic systems or other sources, a benefit unique to the coalition.

Only wells sourcing drinking water will be sampled, which could include irrigation wells in certain cirsumstances, Taylor-Silva said.

Testing results will be provided to farmers, landowners and the regional water board by September 2014 and yearly after that.

Landowners and farmers may choose to meet groundwater monitoring requirements individually. Regulations require testing primary irrigation wells and all wells used for drinking water twice a year, with the first sample collected and tested during the fall of 2013 and the second during the spring of 2014.

Individual groundwater monitoring guidance is available online at www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralcoast/water_issues/programs/ag_waivers/index.shtml.

The collaborative water testing approach being used on the Central Coast adds to the list of farmer-funded programs, said Danny Merkley, California Farm Bureau Federation water resources director. Central Valley farmers, including dairy operators, have been successfully working together to test groundwater for some time, he said.

The four-county Central Coast groundwater testing cooperative is one of several new groups providing water quality testing services to farmers in the region and to the regional water board.

"The official deadline to join the coalition recently passed," Merkley said. "If you missed the deadline, I suggest contacting a coalition representative immediately to see if there's still an opportunity to sign up."

He said county Farm Bureaus, the Grower-Shipper Association and Western Growers have conducted thorough outreach, "but this is harvest season and there may be some people who would like to participate in the program but haven't yet submitted a membership application and dues payment." There may still be time to join, Merkley said, "but the window is quickly closing, under instructions from the regional water board."

Information on how to participate and on costs is available from county Farm Bureau offices or the Central Coast Groundwater Coalition website at www.centralcoastgc.org.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

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