A U.S. district court in San Francisco, in its infinite wisdom, has issued a ruling that threatens to make it virtually impossible — or just really, really expensive — for farmers to irrigate cropland. While the ruling currently only applies in California, it sets a dangerous precedent that should be alarming to farmers and their allies across the country, warns Gary Baise, writing in Farm Futures.
- Earlier this month the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that farmers in California who irrigate their land as part of the federally managed Central Valley Project, which installed a “tile” drainage system under farmland, must certify that all the water flowing into the drainage system on their property (and eventually to a waterway of the United States) is excess water “entirely” from their own irrigation. Otherwise the farmers must obtain a special permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).
- This is, broadly speaking, basically impossible because of the high likelihood that runoff from neighboring fields or highways is indeed flowing into a farmer’s drainage system, due to natural topography and water’s inherent physical characteristics. This runoff may well contain pollutants, which are however not attributable to the farmer’s own activities.
- Furthermore, forcing farmers to demonstrate that their field runoff contains no other kinds of runoff is essentially asking them to prove a negative, a laborious and expensive process that would presumably force each farmer to retain environmental investigators as full-time consultants.
- Baise concludes: “Even though this is a California case it should be read very carefully by all of those engage in crop land irrigation.”