SACRAMENTO, California, February 27, 2004 (ENS): A coalition
of environmental and recreational fishing groups filed
suit in California state court on Thursday in a bid
to reverse the Central Valley Regional Water Board's
decision to exempt more than 25,000 growers from clean
The organizations say the exemption allows pesticide
and fertilizer discharges from more than seven million
acres of farmland to contaminate the drinking water
of millions of Californians and hundreds of miles of
waterways in the state.
"There is hardly a Central Valley river or stretch
of the Delta that is not degraded by agricultural pollution,"
said Earthjustice's Mike Lozeau, an attorney for the
groups. "[California's] clean water act is supposed
to protect and clean our waters, not protect and shield
agribusiness from having to clean up their massive pollution."
Agricultural runoff is one of the largest sources of
water pollution in California, and the farmers in the
Central Valley apply an estimated 200 million pounds
of toxic pesticides, along with millions of pounds of
fertilizers, to their lands annually.
The impaired Central Valley waters are the primary
source of drinking water for more 20 million Californians
across the state - state and federal environmental officials
have declared that many of these waters are unsafe for
uses such as drinking, swimming, and/or fishing.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a long running battle
against farm pollution in California's Central Valley.
The $28 billion California agricultural sector has been
waived from complying with the state's clean water laws
Last July - despite fervent opposition by more than
200 public heath, environmental, fishing, and other
organizations representing millions of Californians
- the Central Valley Regional Water Board opted to adopt
another exemption for the sector.
Seven public interest organizations filed an appeal
to the California State Water Resources Control Board
to overturn that decision, citing more than 50 scientific
studies and the opinions of six independent scientists
that demonstrated the renewed exemption would likely
worsen water quality problems.
But last month the State Water Board rejected that
appeal by a vote of five to zero and extended the waiver
for three years.
The water board did direct the Central Valley Board
and farmers to develop a 10 year plan to meet the water
quality standards and a plan to monitor how the agricultural
pollution is impacting water quality - but critics say
that is hardly adequate.
The lawsuit, which includes claims against the State
Water Board for upholding the decision, asserts the
agencies violated California's core water quality laws
and the California Environmental Quality Act.
The latter law requires the agencies to issue permits
for substantial discharges of pollution and to assess
the environmental impacts caused by agricultural runoff.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to vacate the exemption
and to order the agencies to regulate the agricultural
industry as required by law.
"The waiver exempts agriculture from regulations
applicable to everyone else," said Deltakeeper
Bill Jennings of Waterkeepers Northern California. "It
does not require agribusiness to reduce a single pound
of pollution, implement a single pollution prevention
measure or meet a single water quality standard."
The coalition filing the lawsuit includes Deltakeeper
(a project of Waterkeepers Northern California), Natural
Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, Environment
California, and the California Sportfishing Protection
The suit was filed in Sacramento Superior Court.
The groups say neither agency responded to the volumes
of scientific documents and expert testimonies in evidence,
which show that the adopted monitoring program is inadequate
and will fail to protect water quality.
"The decision sets a statewide precedent of ignoring
Californians' need and overwhelming support for clean
water," said Linda Sheehan, director of The Ocean
Conservancy's Pacific Office. "Californians rightfully
expect clean beaches, fishable rivers and safe drinking
water. By contrast, the state's decision ignores California's
growing water crisis and fritters away the limited supply
we have left."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights