California Farms Going Dry? Growers Worried Over New Regulations
"The basis of this whole Valley, the economy of this whole Valley is agriculture and that's what they're hitting the hardest with the regulations. And we're the ones paying for it," Rick Borges said.
Borges' Tulare farm has been in his family for generations.
There are 700 acres of corn, cotton, hay and pistachios. He plans to pass it down to his kids someday.
But he's worried he might not get the chance.
"It's going to be quite difficult to follow this order and still make a living at farming," Borges said.
He's talking about the state's Irrigated Lands Program.
As it is now, Valley growers pay about $2.75 per acre, per year to have surface water tested for things like nitrates.
But now the State Water Resources Control Board wants to test ground water too; which means instead of two bucks an acre, growers say they'll have to pay about $130 per acre and have to drill their own shallow wells to monitor the ground water.
"Many of our disadvantaged communities are having to buy bottled water because they can't drink it. And it's important that we protect that water for those beneficial uses," Clay Rodgers, with the State Water Resources Control Board, said.
Pretty much every grower in the Valley has at least one irrigation well, and putting them in isn't cheap.
Drilling one will cost you anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000.
The monitoring wells are supposed to be smaller, but no one really knows how much they will cost.
Combine that with the fee for monitoring the ground water and growers say it's going to make things very difficult.
"If your profit margin per acre is $100 to $150 and now you're going to be paying $100 to $150, it's gone. You have no profit anymore. How do you live? You don't," Borges said.
"We are not seeing $130 an acre. We're looking at just a few dollars per acre," Rodgers said. "There will be some additional cost probably for the installation of shallow wells to test the water."
Growers say they don't deny that something needs to be done to clean up the water in those communities where it's been deemed unsafe.
But they say pointing the finger at farmers isn't the solution.
"Nobody knows exactly where the water that's underneath our feet now came from. We don't know if it's flowed all the way from the mountains, we don't know if it's flowed from 20 miles away," Borges said. "Their first remedy, the state, should be figure out where the nitrates came from, make sure however it was getting there before is not a problem now, rather than just going out, agriculture you put out nitrate, you're guilty, without any proof."
"I do not believe it will put farmers out of business. One, I used to be a farmer myself. I grew up in a small family farm in Tulare County. The costs, while not insignificant, they are going to be within a very manageable range, I do believe," Rodgers said.
Borges says the program doesn't just hurt the family farm; he says it could show up at the family table too.
"The safest food you're ever going to get is from the United States. Who knows what you're going to get coming from other countries," he said.
Nothing is set in stone yet.
On August 21st, a workshop will be held at the Ag-Tac Center in Tulare to discuss the program.
Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment.