General Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges from Irrigated Lands, simply known as Ag Order 4.0, will officially begin to be implemented. Just prior to the deadline, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board approved the measure Thursday evening. There has been unease among farmers throughout the lengthy development process as to how the rule will affect production. Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director, Norm Groot has pointed out several issues with the order over the past year. Limitations on nitrogen applications have been a central concern, along with the provision allowing a third party to maintain compliance for an ag operation.
Even with the approval of Ag Order 4.0, there are still several steps that will continue to be taken as the rule takes effect. “The biggest one is getting a third-party cooperative program implemented and approved. That’s going to take some time because they have to go through an RFP process,” Groot explained. “If we don’t have that in place right away then that causes some hesitancy on the part of the farm operators to determine which pathway they’re going to use for compliance.”
While Ag Order 4.0 only affects eight counties on the Central Coast, there is concern that it could be used as a model for other areas of California. The Central Coast Water Board has indicated it will approach implementation “from an adaptive management perspective.” In a press release, Board Chair Dr. Jean-Pierre Wolff said they spent an “unprecedented amount of time” considering the provisions of the order. Despite some changes made in response to significant stakeholder feedback, there is still some disappointment with the final version of the requirements.
“There is a distinct possibility that this will get appealed to the State Water Board, which is the next step,” said Groot. “It’s not just agriculture that may appeal it, it could be other groups too such as environmental and social justice groups that feel that they didn’t get what they wanted in the program either.”