State Water Resources Control Board Focusing on Non-Compliant Dischargers

On Friday, April 17th, the Regional Board held a board meeting in the Fresno office.  The most concerning item on the agenda was enforcement of Waste Discharge Requirements.  Three operations were cited to appear before the regional board; one dairy and two commercial farming operations.

The first farming operation (Farm A) called before the Regional Board farmed a little over 300 acres in Madera County.  According to the report, the operation is required to comply with Water Code section 13264 which requires that irrigation users report their waste discharges to the Regional Board.  The second farming operation (Farm B) that was cited on the docket was a commercial agriculture operation that was separated into multiple parcels across Stanislaus, Merced, and Madera counties. The accumulated acreage for the operation across the several counties totaled over 900 acres

The process that can ultimately lead to a meeting before the Regional Board begins with a Notice of Intent, which notifies operations of their lack of compliance.  The notices are sent via certified mail, so when a notice is signed for, the time to respond begins. Once that deadline passes, the Regional Board then moves along with a Notice of Violation (NOV) which is another notice requiring compliance, and notifying the owner that serious fines are to be levied. The fines are listed as $1,000 per day for non-compliance.  Both farms were notified in 2013 of their noncompliance.

The owner of Farm B failed to report his discharged acreage to the coalition which kept the time on the fine running. In all, the owner was out of compliance for 204 days resulting in a penalty of over $200,000 dollars.   The Regional Board issued an Administrative Civil Liability Complaint with a reduced amount for $31,460 dollars. Farm A was cited for non-compliance for not enrolling in a watershed coalition or reporting to the Regional Board and assessed a fine of $51,480 dollars.

As stated above, both farms were notified 2 years ago and encouraged to report discharges to the Regional Board or enroll in a watershed coalition.  The timeline for unpunished enrollment has long passed, and penalties like these will become more common.  If you have not enrolled in a coalition, or reported your discharge to the Regional Board, we encourage you to do so.  If you have received a notice of intent or violation, we encourage you to respond to the Regional Board with your plan of action.  The fines that are being imposed are very high, and we fear that the longer an operation waits, the levied fines will be much heavier.

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Governor Signs Ag Overtime Bill

Ignoring the pleas of real farmworkers and the agricultural industry, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today signed AB 1066, the ag overtime legislation. This means that California will have the most stringent trigger of any state in the country for overtime for farmworkers, with 45 states having no overtime protection at all. The Governor signed this bill, supposedly to bring “equality to all workers”, yet taxi cab drivers, commercial fishermen, car salesmen, student nurses, computer programmers, and carnival workers all work without any overtime provisions whatsoever. The Governor signed this ag overtime bill in the same year that minimum wage legislation was also passed that will take California to the highest minimum wage as well as legislation forcing California to adopt additional greenhouse gas regulations for businesses in California. California is the only state in the country subject to such regulations. Today’s signing occurred despite numerous requests by the agricultural industry to meet with the Governor to discuss our concerns. The message is clear. California simply doesn’t care. These provisions will be phased in over the next few years ending with the overtime provisions to be triggered at 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week.

In the Beginning As folks transitioned out of cotton and into tree nuts, the industry recognized the need to have active and effective representation at the local, state and national levels. Having enjoyed such effective representation over the years from the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, these folks yearned for the same representation in the tree nut processing industry. Issues such as air quality, food safety, labor, taxes, employee safety, and environmental concerns are at the forefront, and there is a significant need for an aggressive and dynamic Association to lead the industry into the next decade and beyond. In recognition of this, the Western Agricultural Processors Association was created in 2009. The Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) shares staff and office space with the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations taking advantage of a unique and opportunistic situation. WAPA is a voluntary dues organization with four shared staff and one dedicated staff person. Regulatory, legislative and legal issues fall under the purview of this new organization for the tree nut processing industry, which includes almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. From air quality permits to conditional use permits, from regulatory hearings on greenhouse gases to federal legislation on food safety, and from OSHA violations to assisting members on hazardous materials business plans, no issue is too small or too large for WAPA. WAPA has assembled one of the best and most capable staffs in the industry, and the results are already starting to show Membership The Western Agricultural Processors Association represents facilities involved in the processing of almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts.Membership in the Association is classified as Regular memberships are limited to almond hullers or processors, pecan and pistachio processors, and walnut dehydrators and processors. Associate memberships are limited to any individual or business entity which is not engaged in agricultural processing, but which provides products or services directly related to the agricultural processing industry. WAPA Associate members include, but are not limited to, commodity brokers, accounting firms, and insurance brokers. Organization The Western Agricultural Processors Association is governed by a Board of Directors, elected by its membership.The Board consists of up to 15 members from throughout the state, and throughout the industry.The Board meets on a quarterly basis and conducts an Annual Meeting in the spring of each year.WAPA, in conjunction with the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, conducts a special training school for its members focused on safety.In combination with the school, the Association holds a Labor Management Seminar for all of the managers. Consulting Services In researching and considering the concept of forming a new organization, the Boards of Directors for the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations instructed staff to perform some of the work on a consulting basis first. The point was to determine the workload from consulting and to determine if there was sufficient interest. In November of 2007, the Association began conducting services under consulting contracts for such services as air quality permits and safety plans.The effort has been so successful that demand has progressed outside the tree nut industry into other agricultural processing facilities, including vegetable dehydration facilities, tomato processing facilities, and wheat mills, as well as cotton gins in Arizona.It was determined by the new Board of Directors of WAPA, that WAPA would maintain the consulting services to provide offsetting income to help with the expenses of getting the new organization up and running.Today, WAPA provides for a long list of satisfied clients in the agricultural processing industry, by providing critical services such as air quality, safety, food safety, and environmental issues (Hazardous Materials Business Plan, Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans, etc.).