Are You Ready for Water Quality Regulations?


Craig Kolodge

Craig Kolodge

We caught up with Dr. Craig Kolodge, Director of Business Development with Summit Erosion Control in Poway, CA, to gain some insight on recent developments in water quality laws and how growers can best implement measures in their operations to safeguard the water supply.

1. DTS: Why should growers pay attention to water quality in their operations?

Kolodge: At a recent Sustainable Urban Landscaping conference at Cuyamaca College in south San Diego County, Glen Schmidt, a local  landscape architect and member of the San Diego American Society of Landscape Architects Water Committee, presented information indicating that the cost of water in the region will increase by 194% over the next seven years. 

Availability, water quality, the increasing cost of water and pollution control must all be factored into a grower's bottom-line when running a nursery or farm. How the grower manages their water will be the critical determinant of whether they survive or fail as a business enterprise. It is a challenge that will not go away and cannot be ignored.

Given the fact that San Diego County has more small family farms than any other county in the U.S., is number one in the nation in nursery production and also has the sixth highest urban population in the U.S. with more than 2.6 million people, makes for a very challenging and heavily regulated environment of co-existence. How all these new regulations impact the future of agriculture and nursery production in San Diego County continues to be played out daily with a high degree of uncertainty about the outcome. One thing is certain, the cost to growers will continue to increase.


Water Quality BMPs

Currently the most common BMPs being used to manage runoff include:

  • gravel bags
  • straw wattles
  • silt fences
  • hay bales
  • plastic sheeting
  • earthen berms

However the biggest under-utilized "hidden" resources available to growers are the compost-based BMPs (compost and mulch) that have been approved by the EPA for storm water and irrigation run-off pollution control.

Combine this with a drought that, in spite of adequate rainfall this year, continues to plague the region with increasing water prices and availability issues, it is easy to see why water is identified as the single biggest issue facing San Diego County and California growers now and in the years to come. 

2. DTS: What are some of the recent happenings/issues that have occurred in the area of water quality regulation?

Kolodge: Two significant ones come to mind: California implemented the nation's newest, most stringent Construction General Permit (CGP) that went into effect on July 1, 2010 and the recent  Agricultural Waiver for water quality regulations and monitoring of nurseries and agricultural businesses here in San Diego County. California leads the U.S. in both the implementation of new, more stringent water quality regulations and enforcement of these new regulations. Typically, the way California goes environmentally, the rest of the nation follows. Water run-off from nurseries and ag operations, as well as construction activities, have been identified as contributing pollutants to local waterways both here in San Diego County and statewide.


Compost Sock

Best management practices adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency include compost filter socks, which are proven to filter pollutants and sediment from stormwater.

The CGP is a risk-based permit that regulates any construction activities involving the moving of soil, on-farm or off. It focuses on two factors:

  • the project sediment risk driven by scheduling of project and site characteristics and
  • the receiving water risk.

Agriculture's impact on surface water in California is regulated under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) legislation of 1972 and the California Porter-Cologne Act and make it illegal for any irrigation or storm water to carry pollutants off the farm or nursery site. This includes:

  • nutrients from fertilizers (nitrogen & phosphorus)
  • pesticides
  • salts
  • bacteria
  • sediment 

Agricultural pollutants are strictly prohibited from being discharged into storm water conveyance systems or receiving waters. A storm water conveyance system is defined as any public or private drainage system (non-sewage) including street, curb/gutters, inlets, pipes, channels, culverts streams, etc.  Receiving waters are any natural or semi-natural water bodies including oceans, lakes, streams, lagoons, rivers, etc. 

3. DTS: What measures can growers take at their operations to ensure that they are clean water stewards?

Kolodge: In protecting natural resources, growers have long been involved in conservation practices. The new name for such practices is called "best management practices" or BMPs. The new regulatory guidelines call for a minimum level of BMPs to be implemented to comply with regulations including runoff testing and reporting, which will become mandatory in 2011.

The EPA strongly encourages growers and the public to increase their utilization of recycled curbside-generated yard trimmings to address their goal of reducing Metropolitan Solid Waste (MSW) by 40% in 2011 (Resource Conservation Challenge) and improving water quality under the current National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). CalRecycle (formerly known as the California Integrated Waste Management Board) funded 13 demonstration projects between 1994-2002 focused on agricultural and soil erosion issues. These demonstration projects along with considerable research studies by the U.S. EPA, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the county of San Diego Watershed Protection Program all support the use and cost-effectiveness of compost and mulch-based BMPs for managing erosion and sediment, targeted pollutants (nitrates & phosphates) and green infrastructure development (Low Impact Development - LID) such as vegetated swales and bio-retention basins.


Working Together

Where possible, growers should pool their resources to address adopting water quality Best Management Practices (BMPs) and communicating efforts to the public. The grower-supported San Diego Regional Irrigated Lands Group (SDRILG), administrated by Farm Bureau:

  • gathers water quality data
  • educates growers on how to reduce detected pollutants
  • works with engineers to implement BMPs

This voluntary and cooperative effort by participating growers is one rational and cost-effective approach to meeting the broad regulatory requirements of the new permits and waivers.

   Promoting the collective efforts and implementation of such monitoring programs to consumers effectively communicates that their safety and welfare is important and being addressed by the grower community as a whole.

4. DTS: What is the most important precaution growers can take to protect their water quality?

Kolodge: The single most important thing a grower can do to protect water quality is to focus on reducing and/or eliminating the source of the pollutants that are entering into and impacting the quality of water leaving their site. If it is impractical for them to eliminate the source of the pollutant, then the next best thing is to retain the contaminated water on site in some type of retention basin or treat it using either passive (e.g. compost filter socks) or active treatment systems (PTS, ATS).

Much work and field evaluations remain to be done in the area of low cost, biological active PTSs such as compost filtration systems and LID designs (e.g. on-site vegetated filtration systems). Published research supports the increased utilization of natural filtration systems in managing source pollutants such as nutrients and removing them from run-off water before they reach a conveyance system or receiving body of water.  

5. DTS: How can growers communicate to consumers that the water they use to grow crops is safe? 

Kolodge: The first step is to actually take seriously the challenge of protecting water quality, especially regarding the water associated with your growing operation. This requires that you have a "published" and well thought-out water pollution prevention plan in place and an active water quality monitoring and testing program established. Few growers currently have such plans in place.

Local federal, state, county and city jurisdictions want to work with growers in helping prevent water pollution and may have limited funds available to assist growers in effectively implementing permit requirements. Unfortunately, the majority of the financial burden for putting in place such pollution prevention plans will fall on the shoulders of the growers.

To learn more about making your operation more water-savvy, contact Kolodge by calling 858-679-2100; email or visit


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