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Rainbow MWD considers creating water runoff monitoring group

The San Diego County Farm Bureau has created a runoff monitoring group to help its members comply with new water quality regulations, and the Rainbow Municipal Water District is considering the creation of such a group.

“We’re not offering it at this time. It was put on our agenda this month [December] to discuss if there was a potential,” said Rainbow Municipal Water District board member Rua Petty, who along with his wife owns RJT Ranch in Rainbow, which grows avocados and proteas.

In 2007 the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted regulations which require all agricultural and nursery operations to test wet-weather and dry-weather runoff for pollutants and report the test results.

The regulations allow for growers to undertake such monitoring and reporting responsibilities themselves and report directly to the RWQCB, and growers are also allowed to participate as a member of a group.

“We formed a monitoring group in response to that,” said San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson. “We formed a monitoring group for Farm Bureau members to join.”

Although participation in any runoff monitoring group is voluntary, the concept of a group allows farmers to share costs.

The RWQCB estimates a cost of $18,000 for the preparation of a program and submittal of necessary reports.

That figure does not include sampling and testing estimated costs of $1,440 per collection and $635 per sample analysis.

“It’s pretty expensive if you try to do it on your own,” said Rainbow Municipal Water District general manager Dave Seymour.

Because Regional Water Quality Control Board boundaries are based on hydrologic regions, Region 9 includes portions of Orange and Riverside Counties and does not include all of San Diego County (the most notable exclusion is Borrego Springs).

Members of the Orange County Farm Bureau or the Riverside County Farm Bureau will be eligible to join the San Diego County Farm Bureau’s San Diego Region Irrigated Lands Group (SDRILG).

Growers who are not Farm Bureau members, as well as Farm Bureau members who believe that another monitoring group would be more suitable to their needs, may join another group if one exists.

“Anybody else could form a monitoring group,” Larson said. “We couldn’t tell anybody not to.”

While a farmer may join the San Diego County Farm Bureau, which is open to all farmers, and be eligible for participation in the group, the Farm Bureau created a discount from the one-time fee in order to encourage early sign-ups which will allow the Farm Bureau to fund the program once it takes effect.

Those who joined the monitoring group in 2008 paid $500 or $100 per acre, whichever is less, while those who join between January 2009 and June 2009 will pay $750 or $150 per acre, whichever is less.

After July 1, 2009, all members will pay $200 per acre up to $1,000.

The sign-up fee covers organizational costs and also creates a source of funding which is available to provide matching funds for grants.

The SDRILG, which will perform or contract for the sampling and testing, will also assess an annual acreage fee after the requirement takes effect.

The acreage fee is yet to be determined but will be spread among all monitoring group members.

A monitoring group will establish and staff the operations and administration components of a program, register participants, and hire a consulting engineering firm for the testing which involves select sampling sites downstream from farms in watersheds, taking water samples and testing for compliance, and reporting back to the monitoring group.

The monitoring group will then report the results to the RWQCB, and if pollution is discovered efforts will be made to remediate the problem.

Each grower or monitoring group must file a notice of intent with the RWQCB by January 1, 2011.

“It doesn’t go into effect for a couple of years,” Seymour said.

Throughout the state some county farm bureaus and water districts have agreed to be program administrators, some 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations have been created, and some commodity groups have formed coalitions.

“We’re just probably an additional option if we decided to do it,” Seymour said.

“It would give my ratepayers a choice,” Petty said.

The Fallbrook Public Utility District is not currently considering the formation of a monitoring group.

“We have not been approached, so the board has not discussed it at this point in time,” said FPUD general manager Keith Lewinger.

The Rainbow district board action was to ask district staff to undertake further investigation.

“We’re just in the preliminary stages,” Seymour said. “We’re just now starting to look into it.”

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