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Ag Council Comments on New Bovine General Order

April 7, 2017

Via email to:

Charlene Herbst
Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board
11020 Sun Center Drive, Suite 200
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670-6114

Re:      Comments on the “Waste Discharge Requirements General Order for Confined Bovine Feeding Operations” (Tentative Order)

Dear Ms. Herbst:

Agricultural Council of California (Ag Council) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the Tentative Order referenced above. Ag Council is a member-supported organization advocating for more than 15,000 farmers across California, ranging from small, farmer-owned businesses to some of the world’s best-known brands. Ag Council works tirelessly to keep its members productive and competitive, so that agriculture can continue to produce the highest quality food for the entire world.

Enhancing the Tentative Order’s ability to protect water quality, while moving toward more reasonable and practical expectations for the regulated community is our main objective. Ag Council’s main concern is that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s (Regional Board) Tentative Order comes with new financial obligations. California dairies are increasingly impacted economically through regulations on water quality, air quality, greenhouse gases, labor, and others. Many dairies have shut down or moved out of state due to the associated cost increases of these regulations, along with unstable milk market conditions. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), 46 dairies went out of business in 2016 alone. The state’s dairy community is shrinking, which leads to fewer jobs and less economic growth in the Central Valley. We urge the Regional Board to consider this proposal in the context of all the other regulations effecting dairy families and make efforts to minimize the costs.

Along with our concern regarding the economic burden the Tentative Order will place on newly regulated facilities, we put forward the following comments for additional consideration:

  • The Regional Board is proposing to focus their regulatory threshold on operations with six bovine animals. This is too small and will put a huge burden on small, family-owned operations. At a minimum, the Tentative Order should return to its previous intention of regulating facilities with more than 100 animals only. The Tentative Order should also make the effort to exclude all educational projects related to secondary schools, FFA and 4-H programs, and others.
  • The proposed implementation timeline should be extended in a way that will reduce the negative, practical and financial impacts on the regulated community. We suggest using the more reasonable timeframe proposed by Dairy Cares. This timeline will take into account many socioeconomic factors that can arise from regulating a new sector. It will also provide greater flexibility and chance of success, while still reaching the ultimate goals.
  • The Regional Board should include streamlined approval for single geosynthetic lagoon liners, just like they have done for double-lined retention ponds. Ponds with geosynthetic liners perform at a comparable level with double-liners, providing an adequate level of protection. Reducing the cost and increasing the compliance functionality of these liners will encourage and incentivize wider use. As a result, we could expect a decline in seepage from ponds and an improvement in manure management.
  • We appreciate that the Tentative Order seems to step back the importance of the requirement that applied nitrogen on dairy crops not exceed 140 percent (1.4 ratio) of harvested nitrogen. However, we would caution the Regional Board from analyzing the general modeled assumptions in the U.C. Davis Report[2] and jumping to enforcement. We suggest the Regional Board forgo the 1.4 ratio in favor of a system that requires measuring and reporting application and removal practices. This will help inform future management decisions until appropriate guidelines can be set.
  • We urge the Regional Board to adopt a simplified and more straightforward process for regulated operations to notify their intent to comply. Setting up a system that is easy for the facility operator to follow and comply with, without professional assistance or further financial burdens, is an essential first step. This will help to establish a more successful and collaborative regulatory approach.
  • The Regional Board should provide or develop new, standardized and user-friendly reporting forms for Annual Reports, Nutrient Management Plans and Waste Management Plans. The use of existing forms for dairies are not appropriate for this Tentative Order and could create confusion.
  • On March 9, 2017, the Regional Board adopted recommendations for best management practices to the Salt and Nutrient Management Plan (SNMP). There is also an effort to incorporate the SNMP changes into the Central Valley Water Quality Control Plan. We suggest the Tentative Order update the Representative Monitoring Programs (RMPs) section to track with these modifications and to identify tools, practices and strategies that strengthen an operator’s ability to reduce impacts to groundwater.
  • Ag Council supports the option to allow regulated operations to join an Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) coalition as an alternative to enrolling their crop acreage or methods for complying with surface water monitoring requirements under the Tentative Order. However, the scope of this proposal still needs to be flushed out. These operations are some of the state’s smallest and least sophisticated. It is not even clear how many operations or the number of acres that may be subject for inclusion under the Tentative Order and if ILRP coalitions have the bandwidth for new members. The Regional Board should address concerns before moving forward with the proposal.

In closing, thank you for your consideration of these comments. We look forward to continuing to work with the Regional Board as this process moves forward. Should you have any questions or need anything further, please feel contact Rachael O’Brien at (916) 443-4887 or via email at Rachael@agcouncil.org.

Emily Rooney


2016 Legislative Wrap-Up

This year, the California State Legislature sent Governor Jerry Brown 1,059 bills, and he signed 900 of those bills while vetoing 15 percent, which is a slightly higher veto rate than previous years. Though 2016 has been a challenging year on the legislative front, particularly with the measure to change agricultural overtime requirements among the 900 bills signed into state law, some positive actions did occur this year.

Ag Council was engaged in and helped seek passage of SB 1383 by Senator Lara (D-Bell Gardens). The methane portion of the bill creates needed parameters around the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) efforts to regulate manure methane emissions from dairies and livestock and gives more certainty to dairy farming families in the state. In addition, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved Ag Council’s audit request, championed by Senator Galgiani (D-Stockton), to determine compliance and enforcement of the Buy American requirement in schools under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Education and participating in the school lunch and school breakfast programs.

2016 also included defensive wins to halt legislation harmful to agriculture and prevent such bills from becoming law. Ag Council and others worked together to stop legislation to further restrict pesticides, actively lobbied to prevent a ban on new groundwater wells in certain areas and successfully advocated against a food labeling measure requiring a food quality date. These were critical defensive victories during the course of the year on behalf of our members.

Read on for more details about the priority measures Ag Council was involved with this year in the California State Legislature and the outcome of that legislation.


Audit Request (Galgiani)

In August, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) approved an audit initiated by Ag Council to review enforcement of the Buy American requirement to determine whether schools under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Education (CDE) and participating in the school lunch and school breakfast programs are in compliance. If not, the audit will outline the steps CDE will take to provide oversight and compliance of the requirement. Status: JLAC approved the audit request and it is awaiting staff assignment in the State Auditor’s office.


SB 1383 (Lara)

SB 1383 requires the Air Resources Board (ARB) to limit methane emissions from dairy and livestock manure management operations to 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030, rather than the unattainable 75 percent proposed by ARB, which would have set-up dairies to fail. SB 1383 became necessary in order to reign-in the blanket authority provided to ARB under SB 32 (see below). The measure also requires a 40 percent reduction of hydrofluorocarbon gases and a 50 percent reduction of black carbon (includes diesel) below 2013 levels by 2030. Status: Governor Brown signed the bill into law on September 19.

SB 32 (Pavley)
Position: OPPOSED

Current state law requires the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the state to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The newly signed law, SB 32, requires ARB to further reduce statewide emissions of GHGs to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. SB 32 does not extend the existing cap and trade program, which is presently authorized through 2020. Ag Council opposed SB 32 because it gives unfettered regulatory authority to ARB to meet the new mandate. Status: Governor Brown signed the bill into law.

AB 197 (E. Garcia)
Position: OPPOSED

AB 197 adds two non-voting lawmakers to the board at ARB, creates six-year term limits for ARB members and establishes a new legislative oversight committee. AB 197 directs ARB to consider the social costs of GHGs and requires a focus on climate change programs in disadvantaged communities. Ag Council opposed AB 197 because it undermines the cost effectiveness requirement under the current system and does not contain meaningful oversight of ARB going forward. Status: Governor Brown signed the bill into law.

AB 2223 (Gray)
Position: SUPPORT

The bill appropriates up to $10 million in funding from the General Fund to incentivize dairy methane reduction projects including: digesters, solids separation, and conversion to scrape manure management systems. Status: The bill stalled, however, AB 2223 gave critical attention to the need for incentive funding for methane reductions on dairies. The effort also paved the way to securing the $50 million in greenhouse gas reduction funding approved and signed into law for dairy and livestock methane reduction projects.


SB 661 (Hill)
Position: NEUTRAL

The measure makes changes within the “811 Call Before You Dig” program to improve safety to protect the public and workers when excavating near underground facilities, such as oil pipelines, natural gas lines and fiber optic cables. Ag Council and other ag organizations participated in discussions to ensure an understanding of the nature and frequency of agricultural excavations during bill negotiations. Status: SB 661 was signed into law. Clean-up legislation is now being discussed to clarify issues relating to the new annual continuous excavation ticket created in SB 661, which will be available to those operating on ag land.


AB 2725 (Chiu)
Position: OPPOSED
Status: FAILED

The bill requires food manufacturers that use a quality date to use the phrase “best if used by” on the product by July 2017, which imposes a California-only standard not required by other states. Such action creates an unnecessary California mandate to address food waste concerns when the private sector is already working collaboratively to provide solutions. Status: After a significant lobbying effort against the bill, AB 2725 did not have the votes needed for passage in the Assembly Committee on Health.


AB 1066 (Gonzalez)
Position: OPPOSED

After failing passage in the Assembly, the ag overtime measure was revived in a gut and amend measure in the Senate by the bill author, Assemblywoman Gonzalez. This action resuscitated the ag overtime bill (see AB 2757 below) and was permitted by the leadership in the Legislature. Status: AB 1066 passed the Legislature and was signed by Governor Brown on September 12.

AB 2757 (Gonzalez)
Position: OPPOSED
Status: FAILED in Asm. 
& revived in a gut & amend

Phases in a new overtime wage law for agricultural workers requiring overtime in California after eight hours in one day or 40 hours in a week instead of the current payment of overtime after 10 hours in a day and 60 hours in a week. Status: Ag groups and other organizations mounted a strong opposition effort, and the bill failed in the Assembly on June 2. A gut and amend bill to implement new ag overtime rules, AB 1066 (see above), was later passed and signed into law.

SB 1167 (Mendoza)
Position: OPPOSED

SB 1167 directs Cal/OSHA to adopt an unwarranted blanket standard regarding indoor workers with the intent to protect them from heat-related illness and injury. The bill hamstrings the authority of Cal/OSHA to develop the appropriate scope of a regulation by forcing a one-size-fits-all standard onto California businesses. Cal/OSHA already has the ability to implement heat illness regulations, which includes a more collaborative stakeholder process. Status: Governor Brown signed SB 1167 into law in September.

SB 654 (Jackson)
Position: OPPOSED
Status: VETOED

SB 654 mandates new protected maternity and paternity leave in California leading to higher costs and burdens on employers with as few as 20 employees and exposes businesses to litigation. SB 654 requires six weeks of protected employee leave to bond with a new child within one year of birth, adoption or foster placement. The six weeks of leave is in addition to existing leave allowing employees up to four months of protected leave due to pregnancy. As a result, the measure would lead to over five months of protected leave for some employees. Status: Ag Council opposed the bill in the Legislature and requested a veto from the governor. The governor vetoed the bill in September.

SB 878 (Leyva)
Position: OPPOSED

SB 878 mandates a seven-day notice of an employee’s schedule. If the schedule is changed, SB 878 subjects employers to investigations, penalties and litigation. Status: The bill was held in the Senate Committee on Appropriations and did not move forward in time to meet the deadline to pass bills.


AB 2162 (Chu)
Position: OPPOSED

AB 2162, the Oak Woodlands Protection Act, mandates that a Fish and Game permit be obtained for the removal an oak tree. The permit is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). An oak removal plan approved by a licensed forester would also be required. Status: Given the property rights concerns and significant opposition to the bill, it was removed from committee consideration and stalled.


SB 1282 (Leno)
Position: OPPOSED

SB 1282 mandates the Department of Pesticide Regulation to label seeds and plants for retail sale that have been treated with a neonicotinoid pesticide. The measure is not based in science and threatens agriculture given that neonicotinoids are used to fight pests that transmit serious diseases threatening agricultural commodities. Status: The ag community actively lobbied against the bill, and it failed to pass the Senate when considered.

AB 2596 (Bloom)
Position: OPPOSED

AB 2596 bans the use of rodenticides (anticoagulants), with limited exceptions, leaving many agricultural facilities and warehouses vulnerable to rodents, which can transmit diseases. Status: An ag coalition, including Ag Council, strongly opposed AB 2596, and the bill was removed from committee hearing consideration by the author.


AB 2805 (Olsen)
Position: SUPPORT
Status: VETOED, but Gov directed administrative action

AB 2805 establishes the California Agriculture Cargo Theft Crime Prevention Program to promote coordination with the goal of catching suspects and preventing future cargo thefts. Agricultural thefts are causing millions in losses. Status: Governor Brown vetoed the bill stating the goals can be accomplished administratively without statute. However, the governor said, “Agricultural cargo theft is a growing problem in California, worthy of prioritization.” He then directed the CHP Commissioner and the Secretary of the State Transportation Agency to “examine ways to improve enforcement in this area and carry out the goals of this bill.”


SB 1317 (Wolk)
Position: OPPOSED

Bans any new groundwater extractions from probationary basins and those in critical overdraft. Mandates local entities to create a process by Jan. 2018 to issue groundwater extraction permits for the development of groundwater extraction in high or medium priority basins. SB 1317 dictates additional requirements to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and undermines the local control element critical of SGMA. Status: Thanks to a solid opposition effort by an ag coalition, including Ag Council, a hearing was cancelled in the Assembly due to the lack of support.

AB 1520 (M. Stone)
Position: OPPOSED

AB 1520 mandates industrial, institutional and commercial water and energy use be made public information.  The intent of the measure is to shame businesses and provide an avenue for protest without knowing regulatory requirements or how certain industries use water. AB 1520 is not needed given that local agencies can already fine businesses up to $10,000 for water conservation violations. Status: After a strong lobbying effort in opposition of the bill, AB 1520 did not have enough votes for passage in the Senate and the bill was placed on the inactive file.