Farm Bureau urges new approach to state environmental regulation
» September 17, 2004 «
CFBF Supports Changes Described in California Performance Review
The California Farm Bureau Federation said today it supports changes in state environmental regulation recommended in the California Performance Review. The Farm Bureau said the report's recommendations will make environmental regulation more effective, while reducing the frustrations farmers and ranchers feel about current enforcement procedures.
For example, the Farm Bureau said the current "one-size-fits-all" approach toward water-quality regulation in the Central Valley has left farmers skeptical about the program's chances for success.
A member of the Farm Bureau Water Advisory Committee, Gary Robinson of Hanford, outlined the organization's position during a California Performance Review Commission field hearing in Fresno.
The California Performance Review, created by Gov. Schwarzenegger, aims to restructure, reorganize and reform state government. Its report recommends that inspections by environmental agencies be based on the risk that an activity poses to the community or the environment. The report also urges better coordination among inspections of land, air and water quality.
Robinson said all sorts of state environmental regulation would benefit from such changes.
"This is particularly true of water-quality regulation, which serves as a good example of the shortcomings of the traditional bureaucratic approach as applied to farming," Robinson said.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has imposed new water-quality regulations on farms and ranches under its jurisdiction.
Robinson said the board has adopted a single set of requirements "that applies to every farm in the valley, regardless of size, location, rainfall patterns, soil types, water management and use patterns, cropping patterns, nutrient and pest management techniques, receiving water quality or any other factor."
He noted that the Central Valley includes tens of thousands of farms, operating on different soils and affected by varying rainfall patterns.
Robinson said an "enormous diversity" of farming practices exists within the Central Valley as well. The result, he said, is a "wide variety in the degree of risk that actual farms pose to the aquatic environment. Many that use the latest techniques pose little or no risk at all."
Yet, Robinson said, the regional board's water-quality regulations "read as though they are designed for operations that pose an immediate threat of significant environmental harm, despite the fact that most farms pose no such threat."
The Farm Bureau says the large number and variety of farms in the Central Valley requires a prioritized approach to protecting water quality.
"It is necessary that an accurate assessment of the risks attributable to different types of farming operations be done," Robinson said. "Without this prioritization, the public and the farming community and even environmental activists have no assurance that efforts are being expended to eliminate real problems."
So far, he said, the regional board has focused on "bureaucratic tasks," such as establishing a fee base, developing enforcement activities and conducting "ineffective 'outreach activities.'"
The result, Robinson said, is that many Central Valley farmers view the program as "little more than an effort by the regional board to develop a fee-paying base for bureaucratic empire building."
The Farm Bureau says a more constructive approach has been undertaken by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. It says that board's program encourages farmers to assess their farms' potential for generating runoff and to implement management practices tailored to address actual risks to streams. The Central Coast program isn't perfect, Robinson said, but does focus more tightly on water quality protection and restoration priorities.
"The more risk posed, the more aggressive the individual farmer's approach needs to be," he said.
The California Farm Bureau Federation is the state's largest farm organization, representing more than 89,000 members statewide.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top