Biz Buzz: Ag Expo focuses on water issues

After a few years of dry weather, local grape farmers have welcomed the abundance — if not always the timing — of the 2010 rainfall.

“We got a decent amount of rain this year,” said Kris O’Connor, executive director of the Central Coast Vineyard Team. “But the truth is, water is in finite supply and you’ve got all these competing resources.”

That’s why water issues — use, quality and quantity — will be the focus of the organization’s annual Sustainable Ag Expo on Nov. 15 and 16 in Monterey.

The expo is for all farmers — not just grape growers — interested in making their operations more environmentally and economically sustainable.

Other workshops during the two-day event range from honest communication and using social media to keeping soils healthy. For details, visit

The open session features three speakers discussing new rules that may affect farmers and ranchers statewide: Danny Merkley of the California Farm Bureau Federation; Patricia Matteson of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation; and Lisa McCann of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Merkley directs water resources government affairs for the Farm Bureau in Sacramento. He’ll give an update on a bundle of legislation that passed in late 2009 in an effort to overhaul the state’s “aging water system.”

The five bills include authorization for more than $11 billion in bonds for programs including water storage, recycling and conservation, cleanup and drought relief. One establishes penalties for failing to report surface water diversion.

“That package of water legislation is in the process of taking effect,” said Farm Bureau spokesman Dave Kranz. “A number of water quality issues are being discussed as well.”

Merkley will also address potential changes to the water-rights system being discussed in the legislature.

Reporting requirements for water run-off may also change, said McCann, environmental program manager for the Central Coast water board.

“The existing agricultural order didn’t include any individual discharge monitoring,” McCann said. “We’re seriously considering adding that.”

High levels of toxicity from nitrates and other chemicals have been found in areas, including the lower Santa Maria River watershed, she said. Because of that, all farmers may be required to report chemicals in the water they discharge to pinpoint sources.

Around Nov. 15, the proposed changes will be available at for public review and comment. The board is expected to hear the changes in March.

“One size doesn’t fit all — that’s what we’re hearing,” McCann said of input so far from the agricultural community. “There’s a lot of interest that we have tiers so everybody isn’t responsible for doing everything, so operations that have problems have to do more.”

— Raven J. Railey

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