ELC Pushes for Better Agricultural Pollution Regulations in California’s Central Coast

“It is unreasonable for the Board to keep doing the same things it has been doing and expect different results.” –The Honorable Judge Timothy Frawley

Environmental Law Clinic (ELC) students continue to work with client Monterey Coastkeeper to reduce agricultural pollution in the Central Valley—most recently travelling to Santa Cruz County to comment on inadequate water pollution regulations.

Agricultural pollution in the Central Valley is ubiquitous. When pesticides and fertilizers are applied inappropriately or excessively, the polluting chemicals wash from the field in the draining irrigation water or seep into groundwater. Because agricultural discharges are nonpoint source discharges, they are largely exempt from federal clean water laws and have historically been subject to minimal regulation.

In 2015, the ELC won a lawsuit against the state administrative agency legally obligated to regulate agricultural pollution, the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Board”). The trial court judge, the Honorable Timothy Frawley, held that the State Board’s agricultural pollution regulations failed to comply with the law due to inadequate monitoring provisions and vague, unenforceable standards.

Despite the trial court’s holding, the Central Coast Regional Water Board—an offshoot of the State Board—has moved forward with new regulations nearly identical to the ones found to be illegal. Accordingly, ELC students travelled to a hearing on the new regulations. At the hearing, ELC students, Savannah Fletcher JD/MS ’18 and Elliot Higgins JD ’18, argued that the proposed regulations fail to comply with the law because they violate the public trust, are inconsistent with the California Water Code, and violate the state’s antidegradation policy, among other reasons.

Ultimately, the Central Valley Board passed the weak regulations. However, the ELC, on behalf of Monterey Coastkeeper, is currently exploring options to strengthen the regulations moving forward.