Nonprofit coalition aims to reduce costs for well monitoring
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
About half the dairymen in California's Central Valley have signed up to monitor ground-water quality through Dairy Cares.
The nonprofit coalition was initiated to address a 2007 requirement by the Regional Water Quality Control Board that all Central Valley dairies have ground-water-monitoring wells. The program offers participants cost savings and reduced record keeping as opposed to installing the wells, sampling and reporting the results themselves.
The cost of installing a single well can range from $5,000 to $50,000, said J.P. Cativiela, Dairy Cares program coordinator. Some dairies would have to install several wells.
Sampling for an individual dairy is estimated at $2,000 to $5,000 a year. If all 1,400 Central Valley dairies had to do it, the cost would be roughly $3 million to $7 million annually, he said.
"It's crazy to have (1,400) dairies putting in several ground-water-monitoring wells," said Rob Vandenheuval, manager of the California Milk Producers Council. "This takes a more regional approach, installing a few strategic wells."
The water board began sending letters requiring dairies to install the wells in mid-2009 at a rate of about 25 per quarter, Cativiela said.
Some dairies might have already installed the wells, and about 780 dairies have signed up for the voluntary program thus far, he said. The sign-up deadline has passed, but dairymen can still join and pay a late fee.
The initial membership fee is $500, with a not-yet-determined monthly fee of no more than $81.
The water board has partially approved the program, changing its regulation to allow representative monitoring, Cativiela said. Final approval will come when the coalition submits at least one well-installation plan, which should be in about two months. There will be several plans, representing different types of dairies.
The first step in the program is installing the wells and taking data. The second is analyzing the data. Next will come determining recommendations to address problems. The process will take five to six years, he said.
"The basic bottom line is to find out if dairies are protecting groundwater and if regulations are protecting groundwater," he said.
While the program offers an efficient and cost-effective way for dairies to meet the requirement, the water board could still order individuals to install monitoring wells on a case-by case basis. Any dairies that receive individual orders would be allowed to exit the program.
The Central Valley covers approximately 22,500 square miles.