I was in the dairy business for nearly 39 years in Chino in Southern California. I spent over 25 of those years on the board of Milk Producers Council. Since I retired from active dairy farming in 2018, I have been given the privilege by Milk Producers Council to be involved in a whole range of activities facing producers in California. Here is a random update on various things that are going on.
Water: 2019 was a good water year. Lots of rain and snow kept the irrigation ditches flowing late into summer and the crops look great. There was definitely a lot of recharging of the aquifers that took place as well. Long term, the groundwater pumping restrictions that may be the result of the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) are being discussed by the various Groundwater Sustainability Agencies that have been formed throughout California. But at least in the next five years, most folks will have access to enough water to farm.
The SJ Valley Blueprint is the effort to bring together all of the various valley interests to advocate for more water to sustain the economy of the Central Valley. The effort is now officially organized and has chosen an executive committee. It has initiated an economic study that seeks to quantify the impacts to the Valley of the water cutbacks that will be the result of SGMA implementation if no additional water can be secured. The Blueprint has put together a submission to Governor Newsom’s Water Resiliency Portfolio which will be the guide to the Governor’s plan for water for the next three years. The Blueprint document outlines improvements that can be made in the water infrastructure in California that could provide nearly 2 million-acre feet of additional supplies that would sustain agriculture and our economy in an environmentally responsible way. You can read the Blueprint submission here.
On the water quality front, the dairy industry continues to face regulatory pressure related to manure management. In Southern California, the updated Dairy Permit from the Regional Board was put in place last year and it seems that implementation is proceeding without too much difficulty. The Central Valley Regional Board dairy permit is in the process of being updated. There will be increased scrutiny of the dairy industry’s impacts on water quality and ever tougher compliance requirements. I have been enormously impressed with the work of the dairy producer-led Central Valley Dairy Representative Monitoring Program. This group has worked with some top professionals to not only develop a groundwater quality monitoring program but also develop recommendations for the coming dairy permit renewal that will both improve water quality and do so in a way that is feasible for producers to implement. It has been eye opening for me coming from Southern California, where the industry meets many of its environmental challenges by pointing to the fact that urbanization is rapidly diminishing the impact of agriculture on water and air quality, to witness the enormous challenges faced by Central Valley agriculture. Huge investments of time and money to develop programs and processes that will enable the dairy industry to reduce its impacts on the environment and operate in a more sustainable fashion are underway. The State and the Federal governments are partnering with the industry in providing substantial financial investments to help make progress possible.
The creation of Dairy Cares has paid huge dividends for the dairy industry by uniting the industry and providing a vehicle for the coordination of efforts across a broad swath of environmental challenges facing the industry. Our own Kevin Abernathy is an incredible asset to the producer community with his expertise and vast experience in navigating the air and water regulatory environment as well as his talent for securing financial assistance for our producers to take advantage of the government’s financial assistance programs.
One program that is coming up for consideration by the State Water Resources Control Board in October is the CV-SALTS program. California law prohibits discharges of water from any source into a groundwater basin that exceeds the drinking water limit for nitrates. This law creates a standard that is impossible to meet for many dischargers including dairies in the Central Valley. CV-SALTS is a program that was initiated by the discharger community to develop an alternative compliance path. What the CV-SALTS program proposes is a phased approach where dischargers are obligated right away to work with communities that have a nitrate impacted drinking water supply to provide access to clean drinking water.
After that initial phase has been accomplished then the effort shifts to a program to work on cleaning up the degraded groundwater basins. An even longer-term goal of CV-SALTS is the development of a strategy to actually deal with the problem of accumulating salts in the Valley, which has been the problem that has caused the failure in antiquity of most civilizations that relied on irrigation to grow their food. CV-SALTS has been approved by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and is awaiting approval by the State Board where strong opposition from some “environmental justice” and more extreme environmental groups has held up approval. Those folks are not interested in a program that enables collaboration between the government and the regulated community. They want the government to use its enforcement authority to compel and coerce the discharger community into submission. So stay tuned.
What else is going? Well there is the quota discussion, Farm Bill implementation, potential FMMO reform, trade and immigration concerns. But that’s enough for today. Enjoy your weekend.
Geoff Vanden Heuvel
Director of Regulatory and Economic Affairs