New water regulations could help Nevada County farmers stay in business |

New water regulations could help Nevada County farmers stay in business

John Orona
Staff Writer

Nevada County farmers could find some regulatory and reporting relief when the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board votes Friday on whether area farmers will be recognized as low threat/low vulnerability for agricultural discharge.

The move would mean farmers could face less regulations from the water board if it determines they don’t pose a threat to water health due to their farm types and practices.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved sending a letter of support to the water board advocating recommendations put forward by the Placer-Nevada-South Sutter-North Sacramento Subwatershed Group to create separate regulations for areas that pose less of a risk.

According to the subwatershed group Executive Director Lesa Osterholm, the criteria for separate regulations include irrigated pastures; managed wetlands; organic agriculture crops; foothills and higher elevation areas; and Christmas tree and other long-term crops.

Osterholm said all Nevada County farms would be affected due to their vegetation coverage, low sediment run-off risk, slow flow of water and dearth of harmful chemicals and tilling.

“The regulations are one size fits all, we go by the same rules as big guys down in the San Joaquin Valley growing all kinds of crops,” cow-calf farmer Laura Barhydt said. According to Barhydt, most farmers in the area don’t add contaminant that the waterboard mandates testing and reporting for.

“Up here doing irrigated pasture, you’re basically just putting water on it,” Barhydt said. “No one is adding pesticides or fertilizers because it just doesn’t pay off. With the regulations they’re always adding on it doesn’t take long before you can’t make a profit.”

The regulations have been in place for the last 15 years, after the public sued the water board for not having stringent enough oversight over irrigating farmlands. According to Osterholm, that time has shown that farmers in the area are not a threat to water health.

“After 15 years in this program, there is a big need to analyze the economic effect on ranchers and farmers from this program and reduce duplicative and unnecessary reporting requirements,” Osterholm said. “We don’t need to include all areas and growers in costly research and reporting when they are outside of an area and have no effect upon it.”

According to Christmas tree farmer Donn Coenen, it’s difficult to forecast ahead and make a profit when new regulations are always on their way, the most useful of which he said are already practiced by farmers before they are mandated by the board.

“We’ve been turning out pristine water for 15 years, that should be the point,” Coenen said. “The thing that really hurts is that people in the farming business are good stewards of the land. I’m doing all I can to keep the environment clean, but it’s like we’re not being recognized for the good work we’re doing.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email or call 530-477-4229.

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