California Farmers and Ranchers Must Comply with Water Quality Regulations

Farmers and ranchers in California must submit water test results and develop nutrient management plans for their landholdings under the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program.

How California Regulates Water Quality in Relation to Irrigated Lands

California’s nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB) manage water quality on a regional basis. RWQCB responsibilities include regulating all pollutant discharges that may impact surface or ground water quality.

In 2003, California created the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program to address wastes discharged from agricultural irrigated lands, such as sediments, pesticides, and nitrates. Prior to 2003, wastes discharged from irrigated lands were exempt from regulation under a broad waiver.

Since 2003, the RWQCBs have been replacing the broad waiver with regional and commodity-based Waste Discharge Requirements, which are issued under Agricultural Orders.

In 2014, a number of RWQCBs required farmers and ranchers to register under the Agricultural Order and comply with other requirements, including developing nutrient management plans and submitting water test results. Recently, some RWQCBs have issued fines on agricultural operations that failed to register with the RWQCB.

Who Must Comply?

All landowners who manage commercial irrigated property, including greenhouses and nurseries, are subject to the Waste Discharge Requirements or conditional waivers of these requirements. Under state law, they are subject to Agricultural Orders from their RWQCBs.

How to Comply

To comply, landowners have the choice to be regulated as an individual grower, or to join a coalition, which provides region-wide monitoring and water quality management plans. In either case, fees to the state or the coalition are collected annually.

Requirements for compliance vary by region. For example, the Central Coast RWQCB has established a tier-based system that classifies level of regulation by chemical usage, proximity to an impaired water body, and type of crops grown. CCOF hosted a webinar, Complying with the Ag Order on California’s Central Coast, that reviews the compliance requirements for this region.

Farmers and ranchers should be aware that in some regions the current Agricultural Order will expire in 2017. Compliance requirements may change next year as RWQCBs adopt new Agricultural Orders.

Where to Find More Information

For more information, find your RWQCB on this map and contact them directly.

This is an update of the Agricultural Orders Regulate California Irrigation Discharges blog post written by Jane Sooby in 2014. This update was written by Meaghan Donovan.