Environmental Law Clinic Wins Appeal Protecting Central Coast Waterways and People from Agricultural Runoff

The Environmental Law Clinic marked another big court win last week in the ongoing fight against agricultural pollution.  The California Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ultimate finding that the state must do more to control agricultural pollution being discharged into California’s central coast waterways.

Under California law, the State Water Resources Control Board and nine regional boards are tasked with regulating pesticide and fertilizer runoff from irrigated farmland.  In lieu of individual permits, the State Water Board can issue a general permit – known as a “waiver” – authorizing discharges of polluted water from similar sources.  The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the Golden Gate Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, representing conservation, environmental justice, and fishing groups, challenged the State Water Board’s waiver for growers in the central coast.  ELC argued that the waiver, in violation of state law requirements, was inconsistent with state and regional water quality control policies, was not in the public interest, and did not include adequate monitoring requirements to ensure that the waiver’s conditions are actually working.

After extensive appellate briefing by clinic students John Ugai (JD ’17) and Duncan Pickard (JD ’17), the Court of Appeal largely agreed, directing the State Water Board to draft a new waiver with conditions that comport with the environmental protections in state law.

ELC client Steve Shimek hopes that this ruling will impact regulation and agricultural practices throughout the state. “We are out to improve the agriculture industry statewide and nationwide,” Shimek noted in a recent article for the Monterey County Weekly, “We are out to make waves, not ripples.”  ELC and its clients will continue to keep the pressure on the agricultural industry, the state, and relevant water agencies.  A waiver with adequate protective conditions is critical to ensuring the health and welfare not only of our waterways, but also of the people living in these areas, as a recent longitudinal study on the deleterious impacts on children of chronic exposure to pesticides has made clear.