Proposed water quality rules may limit ag activities

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A new effort to reg­u­late graz­ing and its poten­tial impacts on water qual­i­ty has Cal­i­for­nia ranch­ers con­cerned new rules could lim­it their food pro­duc­tion activ­i­ties and yield lit­tle envi­ron­men­tal benefits.

State water reg­u­la­tors launched a series of pub­lic lis­ten­ing ses­sions around the state dur­ing Jan­u­ary to solic­it pub­lic com­ments before devel­op­ing a new “Graz­ing Reg­u­la­to­ry Action Project.” The last ses­sion will take place Jan. 28 from 9 a.m. to noon in Bish­op. Advance reser­va­tion is required.

The State Water Resources Con­trol Board and the nine region­al water qual­i­ty con­trol boards said in pub­lic doc­u­ments they’re work­ing togeth­er on the new project to explore ways to improve envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits from graz­ing, while pro­tect­ing sur­face and groundwater.

The Water Board said it wants to reduce stream sed­i­ment load­ing and intro­duc­tion of bac­te­ria and nutri­ents to water bod­ies and wet­lands, as well as pre­vent phys­i­cal alter­ation of the land that can harm habi­tat and wildlife.

With­out our mem­bers engag­ing in this new reg­u­la­to­ry effort, there’s a risk of reg­u­la­to­ry over­reach by those who don’t under­stand cat­tle and graz­ing prac­tices,” said Dan­ny Merkley, Cal­i­for­nia Farm Bureau Fed­er­a­tion water resources direc­tor. “This dis­cus­sion has been intro­duced, but bypass­es a cru­cial ques­tion: Is graz­ing cre­at­ing any water qual­i­ty problems?

With­out an answer to that ques­tion, it’s hard to decide what reg­u­la­to­ry response, if any, is appro­pri­ate,” he said. “Our mem­bers need to get involved in this dis­cus­sion to help the water boards under­stand range sci­ence, cur­rent graz­ing prac­tices and help them deter­mine if an addi­tion­al reg­u­la­to­ry pro­gram is warranted.”

At a lis­ten­ing ses­sion on the pro­posed GRAP, graz­ing and live­stock expert Kay Mer­cer urged Cen­tral Coast Region­al Water Qual­i­ty Board rep­re­sen­ta­tives to avoid pre­ma­ture deci­sion-mak­ing, not­ing that much analy­sis of assump­tions is needed.

For exam­ple, she said water-qual­i­ty impair­ment list­ings can be out of date or inad­e­quate or lack prop­er­ly cal­i­brat­ed base­lines for Cal­i­for­nia con­di­tions. This gap in accu­rate sci­en­tif­ic data could lead to mis­guid­ed or unnec­es­sary regulations.

In her work with the Cen­tral Coast Cat­tle­men’s Lead­er­ship Group, Mer­cer said well-man­aged live­stock graz­ing pro­vides impor­tant ben­e­fits to the peo­ple of Cal­i­for­nia. Any dis­cus­sion of reg­u­la­to­ry options must include con­sid­er­a­tion of these ben­e­fits and pro­vide for con­tin­u­a­tion of sus­tain­able food production.

The water board said in its intro­duc­tion of the pro­posed reg­u­la­to­ry project that any dis­cus­sion of reg­u­la­to­ry options must include con­sid­er­a­tion of the com­pli­ance costs to the graz­ing community.

It said the pub­lic lis­ten­ing ses­sions “aim to engage stake­hold­ers to explore poten­tial solu­tions that pro­vide con­sis­tent and effec­tive meth­ods of min­i­miz­ing the harm graz­ing can do to water­ways, while main­tain­ing a viable live­stock industry.”

Pub­lic and pri­vate graz­ing lands com­prise about 40 mil­lion acres of the state’s total 100 mil­lion acres.

The water boards said they have a man­date to address all dis­charges of “waste” that could affect the qual­i­ty of the waters of the state. This includes address­ing dis­charges and poten­tial dis­charges of waste asso­ci­at­ed with live­stock grazing.

CFBF Nat­ur­al Resources Direc­tor Noelle Cre­mers said water-qual­i­ty pro­tec­tions relat­ed to live­stock and graz­ing have been around for decades. She point­ed out that since 1995 sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments have been made in water-qual­i­ty improve­ments with the adop­tion of the range­land water-qual­i­ty man­age­ment plan.

At the pub­lic ses­sion in San Luis Obis­po last week, more than 200 ranch­ers attend­ed and expressed seri­ous con­cerns about this pro­posed reg­u­la­to­ry project,” Cre­mers said. “They let water board staff know they intend to fol­low this process and active­ly work to edu­cate reg­u­la­tors about the exten­sive work to pro­tect water qual­i­ty that has already been accomplished.”

For exam­ple, ranch­ers have been work­ing with Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Coop­er­a­tive Exten­sion and the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture Nat­ur­al Resources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice to cre­ate ranch water-qual­i­ty plans and install var­i­ous mea­sures and infra­struc­ture to pro­tect water quality.

We need to ensure nat­ur­al resources are pro­tect­ed and well man­aged, but ranch­ers also need to make sure an oner­ous reg­u­la­to­ry pro­gram is not unnec­es­sar­i­ly imposed on graz­ing and live­stock pro­duc­ers through­out the state.”

Because of the impli­ca­tions of this issue, CFBF is work­ing with lead­ers of the Cal­i­for­nia Cat­tle­men’s Asso­ci­a­tion and the Cal­i­for­nia Wool Grow­ers Asso­ci­a­tion to coor­di­nate response to the GRAP proposal.

An infor­mal com­mit­tee of live­stock pro­duc­ers has been formed to help track this reg­u­la­to­ry pro­pos­al and pro­vide input and guid­ance to mem­bers and agency staff.

Alame­da Coun­ty ranch­er Tim Koop­mann has been asked to head the committee.

More infor­ma­tion on the GRAP pro­pos­al is online