Central Valley Groundwater Requirements for Dairy Farms
Western United Dairymen Assocation
In 2003 the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted Waste Discharge Requirements General Order for Existing Milk Cow Dairies (General Order). Many provisions of the General Order relate to the protection of groundwater resources. One of the most vexing of these provisions to dairy producers is the requirement to install groundwater monitoring well systems on all dairies at an estimated rate of 100 to 200 dairies per year. Installation of monitoring wells at this scale represents a severely high outlay of dairy capital, anticipated to be over one-half of the total compliance costs of the General Order, with little in the way of improved performance. Producers would much rather spend their limited resources on practical applications for improving groundwater quality. However, recognizing the high cost, at the same time that the waterboard adopted the General Order, they also passed a second motion giving direction to board staff, dairy and other stakeholders to explore alternatives to the original dairy-by-dairy monitoring well program. Thus far, compliance with the requirements of the General Order by the valley dairy farmers has been exemplary, with submissions meeting deadlines at rates far beyond what anyone expected. The dairy farming community has earned the respect of regulatory staff. Work is progressing on the development of an alternative to the original monitoring well requirements that should provide a better analysis of the performance and groundwater implications of various manure management practices. Rather than wells on each dairy facility, the proposal seeks to identify areas that can be used as representative of similar conditions and install monitoring wells system in clusters. Implications of manure management practices in these representative areas will provide a clearer interpretation of the effectiveness of the General Order and either validate or discredit the manure management practices in use. Dairy farming is the only agricultural sector that is subject to such a program. Producers remain concerned regarding groundwater nitrate source determination and accurate assessment of background contributions as they do not believe that responsibility lies solely with them. Additionally, the environmental justice community continues to express frustration with poor groundwater quality. Much of this discontent justified or not, is directed at dairy farms.