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Farmers, Environmentalists to Battle In Court Over Water Pollution

Publication Date: 
September 14, 2012
Daily Journal
Fiona Smith

Professor Deborah Sivas spoke with the Daily Journal's Fiona Smith on what it's going to take for the Monterey County Water Resources Agency to slow the discharge of pesticides, nitrates and other contaminants into the Salinas River.

A Stanford Law School professor is heading to court today in Monterey County on behalf of an environmental group that is demanding local officials tackle the problem of water pollution from the Salinas Valley's multi-billion dollar agriculture industry.

Farmers around the state are closely watching as a fight plays out among agricultural interests, local agencies and the nonprofit Monterey Coastkeeper, which argues the industry is creating a pollution crisis by dumping water laced with pesticides into local waterways.


While agricultural runoff has long been exempted from regulation under the federal Clean Water Act, state water protection laws require the Monterey County Water Resources Agency to act, said Deborah A. Sivas, head of Stanford Law School's Environmental Law Clinic, who represents plaintiff Monterey Coastkeeper.

The agency, which collects and sends polluted water into the Salinas River, Elkhorn Slough and other waterways, has the power to slow the discharge of pesticides, nitrates and other contaminants, Sivas said. The region suffers from some of the worst levels of such pollution in the state and it is destroying the local ecosystem and endangering drinking wells in rural communities, she said.

"I think until someone tells them they have a legal obligation, they're just not going to step up to the plate," Sivas said.