County farmers, ranchers safe from water fee? |

County farmers, ranchers safe from water fee?

Nevada County farmers and ranchers who irrigate their lands might end up being protected from a state-imposed fee.

The fee took some farmers and ranchers by surprise in November when they received notification that a failure to pay after Dec. 1 would result in a $1,000 per-day fine. The money is collected by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and goes toward regulating pesticides and other material that ends up in California’s watersheds.

Nevada County Supervisor Robin Sutherland, whose district encompasses a significant amount of ranch and farm land, brought the issue before the board on Tuesday. She said the fee does not apply to this county and threatens to put small operations out of business.

The supervisors voted unanimously to send a letter to the board describing how Nevada County’s use of pesticides is a “low threat,” especially when compared with large-scale farming in the Central Valley.

“This program was really set up for large-scale operations,” said the county’s agricultural commissioner, Paul Boch, saying that recently he received a letter from the state’s water quality control board demanding to be provided names, addresses, and pesticide usage of Nevada County residents to determine who has complied with the fee.

The Nevada County Resource Conservation District also supports the county seeking a waiver.

“It’s not been known that there is a problem up here yet (with pesticide usage). We feel that we are very proactive in looking at the situation and we do an annual education outreach program,” said Lisa Osterholm, the conservation district’s manager. She said there are already 66 monitoring groups in place that are able to indicate when pesticide usage in the area becomes an issue that needs to be seriously addressed.

Osterholm also explained how irrigation is especially important for this county because of high fire danger and a fee could negatively affect efforts to reduce the fire threat.

Currently, there is no waiver available, but some hope that other rural foothill counties may also lobby for the possibility, Supervisor Sue Horne said.

A decision from the control board is not expected to be reached until March.

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