Photo By Andrew Nixon

Farm polluters will police themselves

Say you had to choose between food and water. It would be a no-brainer—you would choose water. But the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board had a tougher time on June 22 deciding whether to extend a self-policing program for farmers that critics characterize as a “failure” in protecting Central Valley waterways.

Farmers, fishermen, environmentalists and citizens from the poorest areas of the San Joaquin Valley who say they cannot drink black-green agriculturally polluted tap water attended the board hearing in Rancho Cordova.

The board voted 5-2 for a five-year extension of a waiver that allows farmers to identify, manage, monitor and implement solutions to their own violations of water-quality standards. Along with extending the waiver, the board is closing a loophole that made it tough for state regulators to identify individual polluters.

Whereas most industrial polluters have to fund studies, pay report fees and have direct scrutiny from state regulators, the waiver program presents different rules for farmers.

Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and leader of an environmental coalition against the waiver, said, “There’s no enforcement. That means no penalties or requirements. When does regulation work when regulators are those being regulated?”

More than 50,000 farmers may seek to be covered under the waiver. Waste entering waterways includes soil, salts, pesticides and fertilizers. With limited staff and resources, the board collaborated with farmers to help agriculture meet water-quality standards. The board plans to learn from the interim waiver program and create a 10-year strategy to solve water-quality problems.

“We are not making an exception for agriculture,” said Ken Landau, assistant executive officer of the regional board. “We are applying regulatory tools allowed by the California Water Code to address water-quality issues over many millions of acres of agriculture.”

But David Nesmith of the Environmental Water Caucus said that the board is easy on farmers because “agriculture is a political power sector in California. They’re not willing to enforce the law and face agricultural opposition.”

—Donna Lee

Roach coaches get reprieve

Kimba Kabaka and James “Roots” Ortiz can breathe a little easier now that the city of Sacramento’s Law and Legislation Committee chose not to approve the revised version of a city ordinance that required mobile food vendors to move every 15 minutes.

In April, Kabaka and Ortiz, owners of Roots-N-Kulchah, a vegan, Caribbean-style mobile food truck that sits on a vacant lot on 24th and K streets, feared that they would lose their livelihoods to what they felt was an unnecessary revision to a decades-old city code (see “Move it or lose it,” SN&R News, April 27).

Not ones to back down, Kabaka and Ortiz began collecting signatures in late April and, as the June 20 committee meeting drew closer, called on faithful customers to show their support at the meeting. The Law and Legislation Committee is made up of four Sacramento City Council members.

Soon after Sacramento Revenue Manager Brad Wasson presented the newest changes to the ordinance at the meeting, the committee invited those both for and against the ordinance to speak. Other mobile food vendors and one citizen, mainly concerned with a local vendor’s suspected drug activity, dropped in their two cents. But Roots-N-Kulchah advocates dominated most of the time at the podium, prompting Councilman Steve Cohn to joke, “Let’s adjourn to 24th and K.”

Also on hand was Stockton attorney David LeBeouf, who represents many of the local vendors and helped change Stockton’s city code in 2004 to accommodate both vendors and the city.

After several overwhelmingly pro-vendor speeches, the committee concluded that the current code failed to make important distinctions between stationary vendors on private property and truly mobile vendors, as well as vendors in residential vs. commercial areas.

The committee appointed vegetarian Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy to serve on a task force and help iron out the nuances of the code, which still may affect a majority of local vendors. But, for now, Roots-N-Kulchah is open for business.

—Amanda Dyer