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Environmental Groups Sue State In Battle Over Agricultural Runoff

Publication Date: 
December 03, 2013
Daily Journal
Fiona Smith

Deborah A. Sivas, director of Stanford Law's Environmental Law Clinic, comments on a case regarding the effect of agricultural pollution on California's drinking water.  

A coalition of environmental and fishing groups has sued the state, claiming it is failing to curb pollution that runs off farmland and into waterways and drinking water wells along California's central coast.

The long-running issue has come to a head after state water quality officials weakened a rule that for the first time would address the nitrates and pesticides that drain from the region's vast agricultural operations.


Agriculture is exempt from the federal Clean Water Act standards, and state and local officials have largely given the industry a pass from complying with state water quality laws over the years, said Deborah A. Sivas, head of Stanford Law School's environmental clinic who is representing the environmental groups in the case.


"It sets a very low bar for what might happen in the Central Valley and elsewhere," Sivas said. The rules are weak as they avoid setting hard limits on contamination, have anemic reporting requirements and make it impossible to figure out which farms are contributing most to the pollution, she added.