Why Do We Say We’re Being Waterboarded?

Why Do We Say We’re Being Waterboarded?

Whether or not it was Mark Twain who first wrote “In California, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” the words still ring true today.

It has been a battle to provide that life-giving commodity from the water-rich but lightly-inhabited north of the state to the densely-populated southern cities, and to the vital agricultural region in between which has been the economic mainstay of California’s economy.

For many years, the issue was how to convey water from one area to another.  But now the focus has shifted to the quality of that water – and with that shift, the burden has been increasingly loaded on the back of agriculture.

In towns and cities and suburbs across the state, citizens may blithely wash their cars, water their lawns, and hose down their driveways, sending down the storm drains all sorts of detergents, fertilizers, motor oil, paint thinners, and other pollutants, secure in the knowledge that they will never be called on to answer for, or to pay for, what they are sending into the streams and the groundwater.

We all use, and depend on, our water supply.  We paid for it with our tax dollars.  But we do not have equal responsibility for maintaining its quality.

Agriculture has for years faced sterner oversight and monitoring, ranging from local authorities to the Department of Pesticide Regulation.  But an added layer of state regulation is making its job increasingly difficult, demanding and expensive.

Under a succession of rulings handed down by regional water boards, farmers and dairymen face increasingly onerous regulations for individually monitoring the quality of groundwater that flows beneath their land… regulations which often ruinously raise the cost of providing vital nutrition and materials to California.

Dairies have been ordered to install monitoring wells and equipment on individual farms, at an average cost of more than $50,000 over the first three years of the program.  And look what’s happening! California has gone from 2,400 dairies to a present 1,700.  Those still in business are required to spend an average of over $11,000 a year to continue this monitoring.

The industry has accepted its share of responsibility for water quality, but has pleaded for the regulations to call for regional monitoring, financed by the industry, rather than placing the cost and monitoring burden on each individual dairy.

Now new regional water board regulations are under consideration, which will place individual growers under the same financial and administrative burden of monitoring water quality at each farm, rather than checking water quality at central locations which could each cover a number of growers.

The effect of the regulations as presently conceived will be to seriously damage the agribusiness economy at the worst possible time, when the state is desperately trying to claw its way out of the grips of a crippling recession.

A further repercussion of these Water Board policies will be to raise food prices to consumers, also at the worst possible time in the midst of a down economy and high unemployment.

In effect, we have the spectacle of an un-elected, politically-appointed board raising the price of doing business, at the time when that will do the most harm to California’s economy.

And, for an added layer of irony, while the state law stipulates who the nine members of each regional water board should be, an added section of that law effectively bans any farmer, or anyone who does business with farmers, from serving on a regional board.

Section 13388 of the California Water Code says “no person shall be a member of the state board or a regional board if he receives or has received during the previous two years a significant portion of his income directly or indirectly from any person subject to water discharge requirements…”  (In other words, no farmers, no suppliers to farmers, no farm workers, no farm advisers or attorneys…)

So much for the old battle cry “no taxation without representation!”

Farmers and dairymen have accepted a major responsibility for water quality monitoring, and have proposed to underwrite the costs of testing on a regional basis, rather than placing the burden on each individual farm.

 The Central Valley Water Board will meet on April 6th, 7th and 8th to discuss proposed new regulations, and special interests are urging them to come down even harder on farmers, even as we call for a more fair and balanced approach.

I  am a fourth generation cattle rancher in the Tracy Hills.  I am past president of the local Farm Bureau and I am a board member of the San Joaquin Resource Conservation District which oversees the irrigated lands program for San Joaquin County.

Pat Connolly