Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board staff plans to recommend the next Agricultural Order be developed as a waste discharge requirement rather than a waiver of discharge requirements that previous orders have been.
The recommendation is included in a report on the preparation of Agricultural Order 4.0 to be delivered to the Water Board when it meets Wednesday through Friday in Salinas and Watsonville.
A discussion of the Ag Order is scheduled for the first day of the meeting but may be continued on the following day if necessary, according to the board agenda.
Agricultural Orders regulate the amount of contaminants allowed in water discharged from irrigated agricultural operations, establish monitoring and reporting requirements and provide methods of achieving compliance.
Specifically, they are designed to solve five water quality issues, including excessive nitrate discharges to groundwater, excessive nutrient discharges to surface waters, toxicity from pesticides in surface waters, discharge impacts on wetlands and riparian habitats and impacts on water quality impacts from excessive sediment discharges.
The current Ag Order 3.0 will expire March 8, 2020, and the Water Board must either renew it or adopt a new order prior to that date.
According to the staff report, waste discharge requirements and waivers generally are similar regulatory tools used by regional boards for various permit processes and, ultimately, both require compliance with water quality objectives.
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But waivers are typically used for lower-risk discharges and cannot exceed a term of five years.
If a regional board does not renew a waiver by its expiration date, then regulatory coverage may lapse for agricultural operations enrolled in the order, the report says.
On the other hand, waste discharge requirements do not require term limits, and while regional boards usually revisit waste discharge requirements on a regular basis to consider updates, there is no risk of regulatory coverage lapsing if they don’t.
Just like waivers, waste discharge requirements can be reworked all at once; but unlike waivers, individual components of an adopted waste discharge requirement order can be modified without the need to review the entire document.
Because of the potential for longer terms, waste discharge requirements also provide more stability and consistency to the regulated community and provide staff with more time to implement adopted requirements, the report says. For those reasons, the staff plans to recommend developing Ag Order 4.0 as a waste discharge requirement.
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Without the need for a five-year review, the staff is proposing to give the Central Coast Water Board annual to biennial updates on implementation progress, challenges encountered, data evaluation and areas of the order that may need to be revised or updated.
Also included in the report are updated tables listing the requirements of Ag Order 3.0 and three options for Ag Order 4.0 in such areas as phasing, numeric limits, a time schedule for implementation, monitoring and reporting and incentives.
The staff plans to ask for direction from the board on the options, then will begin developing a draft of the next Ag Order, with its release expected in August.
Board members plan to meet in closed session on the third day to discuss litigation involving Central Coast issues, including a lawsuit filed against the board by Monterey Coastkeeper over the adoption of Ag Order 3.0 in 2017.
The board also will discuss the United States v. HVI Cat Canyon Inc., formerly known as Greka Oil & Gas Inc., and a referral to the Office of Attorney General regarding Plains Pipeline LP over the Refugio oil spill in Gaviota.