Environmental groups took their fight over water pollution and agricultural runoff to the courts Friday, filing suit over a delay in new farm laws.
The Otter Project and three other Central Coast organizations sued the state Water Resources Control Board for delaying implementation of requirements passed in March that would force all but the smallest growers to develop and monitor water management plans and report the results online.
Steve Shimek, director of The Otter Project, said the Central Coast's surface and ground waters are some of the most polluted in the state. In recent years, dozens of otters have been found killed by toxic blue-green algae that thrives in nitrate-rich water.
By far, Shimek said, the greatest contributor to nitrate contamination is fertilizer from irrigated farmland.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a yearslong fight between environmentalists, farmers, public health interests and the Regional Water Quality Control Board to establish an "ag waiver" program that allows farmers to discharge wastewater from their fields without individual permits.
In March, the regional board approved a plan that pleased none of the groups, but gave growers more time to comply and relaxed control of nitrates from fertilizers.
In September, the state board further diluted the measure by delaying implementation of the requirement that each grower write a water monitoring and runoff plan and demonstrate its effectiveness.
The Otter Project was joined in the suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, by Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
Russ Jeffries of Salinas, who was reappointed Wednesday to the regional board, said he had not seen the suit and could not comment. Calls to the Grower-Shipper Association, which fought the environmental protections, were not immediately returned.
Shimek said both the growers and environmentalists petitioned the state board in April for opposing changes to the new regional plan. The board is expected to rule on those petitions, akin to appeals, sometime in 2013. Shimek said he hopes the lawsuit will move through the courts before that decision.
"We will do everything we can to make sure this moves quickly through the system," he said.
Under the state board's stay, Shimek said, medium- and large-scale growers still must file the online report, but are not required to answer questions pertinent to the progress of their pollution control efforts.
"They don't want people to see their pollution," he said.
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.