Water Quality

Through its management of the Ventura County Agricultural Irrigated Lands Group, Farm Bureau helps growers comply with state and federal water quality regulations.

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Water Quality

For many Ventura County growers, the quality of that water matters as much as the quantity. Some of our top crops – particularly avocados, strawberries and raspberries – are highly sensitive to the amount of salts in irrigation water. Agriculture, however, can also be a source of water contamination. Inefficient nutrient and irrigation management can result in violations of state and federal clean water regulations when runoff carries fertilizer into streams or groundwater. Storm runoff can carry topsoil away, taking long-lasting residues of legacy pesticides such as DDT — both storm runoff and irrigation runoff can transport residues of currently used agricultural chemicals into streams and rivers.

VCAILG Program

In 2005, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a Conditional Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges from Irrigated Lands Within the Los Angeles Region. Known informally as the “Conditional Waiver” or “Ag Waiver” program, it requires the owners of irrigated farmland to measure and control discharges from their property, including irrigation return flows, flows from tile drains, and stormwater runoff. These discharges can affect water quality by transporting nutrients, pesticides, sediment, salts, and other pollutants from cultivated fields into surface waters.

The Conditional Waiver allows individual landowners and growers to comply with its provisions as individuals or by working collectively as a “discharger group.” Given the high cost and complexity of obtaining individual discharge permits, the Farm Bureau enlisted the cooperation of other agricultural organizations, water districts and individuals to form VCAILG, which acts as one unified discharger group for those agricultural landowners and growers who have joined. The Regional Board approved the plan in 2006, and VCAILG was up and running, saving its members thousands of dollars a year in compliance costs. The first five-year program established water quality testing and reporting as well as requirements for members to attend educational sessions to encourage further adoption of “best management practices” or “BMPs” within farming operations to improve water quality.

In 2010, the Regional Board adopted the second Ag Waiver, which modified the requirements by expanding water quality testing sites and the number of constituents to be monitored. In addition, the waiver requires members to document adoption of BMPs relevant to their operations that improve water quality. In 2014, all VCAILG members were requested to complete an online survey about their BMPs as the quickest and easiest way to provide this information to the state regulators. This first survey established a baseline level of BMPs implementation which will be used to compare the results of each annual survey moving forward.

The third Ag Waiver was adopted by the Regional Board in April 2016. This order was intended to expire in April 2021, but was extended for a one-year term until April 14, 2022. It includes far more rigorous requirements than the previous waivers. Click here to read more about it.

Enrollment for the third waiver term is ongoing with more than 86,000 acres enrolled in VCAILG, representing nearly 90 percent of the county’s irrigated agricultural acreage. Everyone who owns or operates irrigated lands in Ventura County is encouraged to become a VCAILG member to comply with regulatory requirements in the simplest and least expensive way. Property owners who don’t join VCAILG are required to comply with those regulations individually – a very expensive prospect – or be subject to enforcement action, including substantial fines, by the Regional Board.

Water Quality Management Plan, Responsibility Areas and Compliance Summaries

VCAILG’s Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP) serves as the roadmap to meet local water quality standards and goals. These plans are prepared and submitted to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) to comply with the waiver.  The current WQMP divides Ventura County into 20 “Responsibility Areas.” To assist our members, VCAILG has created a summary handout for each area with detailed and specific information about compliance responsibilities. Visit our Water Quality Management page to learn more and download/print compliance summaries.

VCAILG Enrollment

The web-based enrollment system to join VCAILG is open. To receive login credentials to complete the enrollment online, please email us at [email protected] with the following information: Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN), Landowner Name, and Landowner Mailing Address. We will then email you the login information and you can submit all other information through the quick and easy online enrollment website. An invoice for the annual assessment fees will follow within the next two weeks and once paid, your enrollment will be complete.

While we encourage online enrollment as the most efficient method, hard copy enrollments can be submitted at any time. You may either print the paper enrollment forms (below) and mail to us or contact us and we can mail a paper enrollment packet to you to be returned to us.    

Please note that we periodically update and confirm membership status to the Regional Board. Eventually, those who have not joined or taken steps to comply as an individual will face enforcement action, and we encourage you to sign up as soon as possible. As a reminder, VCAILG membership is voluntary and you may alternately choose to file as an individual and work directly with the Regional Board (contact Snejana Toneva at (213) 576-7159 or [email protected]) to fulfill the Conditional Waiver requirements.

2016-2021 Paper VCAILG Enrollment Packet.pdf (10 pages)

2016-2021 VCAILG Participation Agreement.pdf (7 pages)

2016-2021 Acuerdo de Participacion de VCAILG.pdf (8 paginas)

Current Membership List

The current list contains the landowner name, contact name, assessor’s parcel number (APN) and join date for current VCAILG members as reported to the Regional Board in February 2020.. Members who have enrolled since that time will be regularly added to the list and will be reported to the Regional Board during the next report. For inquiries about the list, please email us at [email protected].

VCAILG Membership & RA Assignments

Contact Us

If you need a hard copy enrollment packet or have other questions contact:

Griselda Barrera, Water Quality Program Assistant (se habla Español)

Email: [email protected] or (805) 289-0155

If you have questions about the water quality program contact:

Jodi Switzer, Water Program Director

Email: [email protected] or (805) 289-0155

Stay Informed

To keep current about VCAILG workshops, activities and other critical information, please sign up for our e-newsletter to receive regular updates.

Page revised February 21, 2020*

Documents

FAQs

The federal Clean Water Act and the state’s version of that law, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, authorize regulators to control polluting discharges into surface water and groundwater.

The Regional Water Quality Control Boards in charge of enforcing state and federal anti-pollution standards historically waived the waste-discharge requirements for irrigated farms, deeming it in the public interest to do so. A 1999 state law banned that practice, however, requiring that all such blanket waivers expire on Jan. 1, 2003, and directing the state’s nine regional boards to come up with an alternative. The Los Angeles Regional Board, which oversees Ventura County, adopted its first Conditional Waiver program on Nov. 3, 2005. The waiver was renewed on Oct. 7, 2010, for another five years. A third five-year waiver was adopted on April 14, 2016.

Members pay annual assessments, which are used to cover program expenses. These expenses include hiring consultants to establish water-monitoring sites, collect samples, submit the samples to labs for analysis and report the results to state regulators. VCAILG also conducts educational workshops for growers, so they can learn about pollution-reduction strategies appropriate for different crop types and production systems.

It varies from year to year, depending on the scope of work being performed. The cost, which varies by watershed, is divided among growers on the basis of acreage. Differences in cost between watersheds are due to variation in enrolled acreage, the necessary number of monitoring sites, and the types of contaminants being analyzed. The cost per acre in 2020-2021 ranges from &8.77 to $27.47. Since 2006, VCAILG members collectively have spent more than $20 million to comply with the Regional Water Quality Control board’s irrigated lands regulatory program.

Farm Bureau of Ventura County collects and manages the money on behalf of VCAILG. Those funds are kept separate from Farm Bureau funds, and may be spent only on Conditional Waiver program activities and administration.

Yes. Samples collected since the program was established in 2006 show levels of certain contaminants that exceed regulatory limits. Those contaminants include pesticides that are no longer in use, such as DDT, chlordane and dieldrin; organophosphorus pesticides, specifically chlorpyrifos and diazinon; salts; and nitrogen.

The chemicals persist for a long time in the environment and may still be found in the soil on farms and ranches where they were applied decades ago. When irrigation water or storm runoff carries the soil into nearby streams, the pesticides travel with it. This means controlling erosion is the most practicable way to protect waterways.

Monitoring sites were carefully chosen to capture runoff coming only from irrigated agricultural land rather than urban areas, parks, or golf courses. Where this was not possible, background sites were monitored to establish the pollutant levels from these other sources.

Whenever monitoring shows water quality benchmarks are being exceeded, VCAILG prepares a Water Quality Management Plan identifying steps that growers in that area will take to meet the targets. These include adopting better irrigation and fertilizer management strategies, installing filter strips and detention basins, replacing old irrigation systems and equipment with high-efficiency models, planting cover crops, and other steps to reduce or treat irrigation and storm water runoff. If subsequent monitoring does not show improvements in water quality, landowners are required to adopt additional best management practices.

In many areas, it is. Monitoring results show steady or declining trends in many common contaminants, particularly in areas dominated by tree crops and where irrigation is carried out primarily using micro-sprinklers or drip emitters. Problems with legacy pesticides and excess nutrients persist in areas where intensive rotation of vegetable and berry crops predominates, particularly if high-volume sprinklers are still being used.

Farm Bureau of Ventura County administers the program, providing staff support, maintaining records, overseeing the work of the primary program consultant, and handling correspondence with group members and the Regional Board. Budget and policy recommendations are reviewed and approved by a 20-member Steering Committee consisting primarily of growers. Final approval of program expenditures and assessments rests with the Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

Owners of land used for production of agricultural crops to which irrigation water is applied are required to comply with the Conditional Waiver and may do so by joining VCAILG.

No. Membership in VCAILG is voluntary. Landowners who do not wish to join must comply with the Conditional Waiver as individuals, which means they have to take the same steps that VCAILG members are taking as a group: developing their own monitoring, assessment and mitigation plans, and submitting reports directly to the Regional Board.

Over 1,400 of Ventura County’s agricultural landowners have enrolled in VCAILG, representing more than 86,000 irrigated acres. That’s approximately 90 percent of the county’s irrigated acreage.

State law provides for penalties of up to $5,000 per day for each day a landowner is in violation of the Conditional Waiver requirements, up to a cumulative total of $500,000. The biggest fine to date in Ventura County has been nearly $194,000.

The federal Clean Water Act and the state’s version of that law, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, authorize regulators to control polluting discharges into surface water and groundwater.

The Regional Water Quality Control Boards in charge of enforcing state and federal anti-pollution standards historically waived the waste-discharge requirements for irrigated farms, deeming it in the public interest to do so. A 1999 state law banned that practice, however, requiring that all such blanket waivers expire on Jan. 1, 2003, and directing the state’s nine regional boards to come up with an alternative. The Los Angeles Regional Board, which oversees Ventura County, adopted its first Conditional Waiver program on Nov. 3, 2005. The waiver was renewed on Oct. 7, 2010, for another five years. A third five-year waiver was adopted on April 14, 2016.

Members pay annual assessments, which are used to cover program expenses. These expenses include hiring consultants to establish water-monitoring sites, collect samples, submit the samples to labs for analysis and report the results to state regulators. VCAILG also conducts educational workshops for growers, so they can learn about pollution-reduction strategies appropriate for different crop types and production systems.

It varies from year to year, depending on the scope of work being performed. The cost, which varies by watershed, is divided among growers on the basis of acreage. Differences in cost between watersheds are due to variation in enrolled acreage, the necessary number of monitoring sites, and the types of contaminants being analyzed. The cost per acre in 2020-2021 ranges from &8.77 to $27.47. Since 2006, VCAILG members collectively have spent more than $20 million to comply with the Regional Water Quality Control board’s irrigated lands regulatory program.

Farm Bureau of Ventura County collects and manages the money on behalf of VCAILG. Those funds are kept separate from Farm Bureau funds, and may be spent only on Conditional Waiver program activities and administration.

Yes. Samples collected since the program was established in 2006 show levels of certain contaminants that exceed regulatory limits. Those contaminants include pesticides that are no longer in use, such as DDT, chlordane and dieldrin; organophosphorus pesticides, specifically chlorpyrifos and diazinon; salts; and nitrogen.

The chemicals persist for a long time in the environment and may still be found in the soil on farms and ranches where they were applied decades ago. When irrigation water or storm runoff carries the soil into nearby streams, the pesticides travel with it. This means controlling erosion is the most practicable way to protect waterways.

Monitoring sites were carefully chosen to capture runoff coming only from irrigated agricultural land rather than urban areas, parks, or golf courses. Where this was not possible, background sites were monitored to establish the pollutant levels from these other sources.

Whenever monitoring shows water quality benchmarks are being exceeded, VCAILG prepares a Water Quality Management Plan identifying steps that growers in that area will take to meet the targets. These include adopting better irrigation and fertilizer management strategies, installing filter strips and detention basins, replacing old irrigation systems and equipment with high-efficiency models, planting cover crops, and other steps to reduce or treat irrigation and storm water runoff. If subsequent monitoring does not show improvements in water quality, landowners are required to adopt additional best management practices.

In many areas, it is. Monitoring results show steady or declining trends in many common contaminants, particularly in areas dominated by tree crops and where irrigation is carried out primarily using micro-sprinklers or drip emitters. Problems with legacy pesticides and excess nutrients persist in areas where intensive rotation of vegetable and berry crops predominates, particularly if high-volume sprinklers are still being used.

Farm Bureau of Ventura County administers the program, providing staff support, maintaining records, overseeing the work of the primary program consultant, and handling correspondence with group members and the Regional Board. Budget and policy recommendations are reviewed and approved by a 20-member Steering Committee consisting primarily of growers. Final approval of program expenditures and assessments rests with the Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

Owners of land used for production of agricultural crops to which irrigation water is applied are required to comply with the Conditional Waiver and may do so by joining VCAILG.

No. Membership in VCAILG is voluntary. Landowners who do not wish to join must comply with the Conditional Waiver as individuals, which means they have to take the same steps that VCAILG members are taking as a group: developing their own monitoring, assessment and mitigation plans, and submitting reports directly to the Regional Board.

Over 1,400 of Ventura County’s agricultural landowners have enrolled in VCAILG, representing more than 86,000 irrigated acres. That’s approximately 90 percent of the county’s irrigated acreage.

State law provides for penalties of up to $5,000 per day for each day a landowner is in violation of the Conditional Waiver requirements, up to a cumulative total of $500,000. The biggest fine to date in Ventura County has been nearly $194,000.

**Updated 7/30/2020

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