March 7, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Horse and livestock owners in the Ojai Valley have been asked to clean up their act — their manure — to a greater extent than any other horse owners in the area.
To reduce nutrient pollution that encourages the growth of algae, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) has told local horse owners that they must keep 99 percent of all manure from reaching the watershed. This regulation will go into effect within the next 18 months.
“This is the first time that the Regional Board has asked something like this of any horse owners in Ventura County,” said Lynn Jensen, executive director of the Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, which often deals with agricultural issues in the county. “We (in Ojai) are the test case.”
Horse owners in the valley have taken up the challenge, and are working together to find ways to meet the new regulatory standards. In the last six months, a group of horse owners have formed the Horse and Livestock Watershed Alliance and are working with experts at the county’s Resource Conservation District (RCD) on plans to handle manure in a new way.
“These regulations were initiated by a lawsuit from an environmental coalition led by Heal the Bay,” said Alan Connell, director of the alliance. “The Water Board was sued for not doing their job under the Clean Water Act and getting (pollution regulations) written. That lawsuit was brought in 1999, and these new standards were just instituted, to take effect this month. It’s still our goal to be good stewards of the river, and to maintain our lifestyle with horses. That’s important to us.”
For engineer Phil Sherman, who owns two horses and a donkey, but has pioneered a plan to handle horse waste and bedding with a new biodigester, the short-term answer lies in working with the young experts at the RCD. Sherman and several other horse owners doubt the idea of a manure biodigester will be financially viable unless the state or federal government steps in with big grants, but think that they can work with the experts at the RCD to solve the problem with simpler low-technology solutions.
The RCD is a nonprofit agency first brought into being by Congress in the Dust Bowl era, when poor farming techniques and widespread drought led to a huge loss of valuable farmland.
“If each individual horse owner or each individual ranch has to deal with the Regional Board on their own, these regulations could become onerous,” Sherman told a group of about 20 horse owners in a meeting at the Little House Wednesday night. “But if you join our organization, and meet the requirements of the organization, then you will be exempt from any of the other requirements the Board comes up with. That’s what happened with irrigated agriculture (in Ventura County), and there’s no reason it can’t happen this way with horse and livestock owners.”
Sonya Webb, district engineer for the RCD, said that to reduce farmland run-off containing pesticides and other pollutants, the RCD, the Farm Bureau and other groups helped bring together a self-regulating body called the Ventura County Agricultural Irrigated Lands Group (VCAILG). This group helped farmers meet the conditions of a “conditional waiver” from LARWQCB, which required agricultural producers to measure and control discharges from their lands for pollutants, nutrients and stormwater.
In 2005, the LARWQCB issued a conditional waiver, clarifying what standards would apply to agricultural run-off. In 2006, it approved a plan allowing VCAILG to act as a single discharger, for the purposes of a waiver.
The regulators at LARWQCB have encouraged the creation of a similar group for horse owners in Ojai.
“Instead of making each horse owner apply for an expensive permit, and undergo all the monitoring that goes with that permit, the Regional Board is going to say that if you join the (horse owners) group, and abide by these best management practices that we have worked out with them, we will issue a conditional waiver, and work with the group as a whole,” said Webb. “That’s the fist step.”
At the meeting Wednesday evening, horse owners discussed possible measures to control discharge of waste from horse manure, including storage in concrete bunkers with roofs, to prevent run-off.
To Webb and Katie Haldeman, who works as an environmental scientist at the RCD, the objective is to provide examples of how good practices at farms and ranches can prevent pollution problems. They say they can help horse owners by walking their property, preparing soil reports and offering design advice, and they hope to have some grant money available to help the horse owners association in the coming year.
For information on the horse owners alliance and details on how to join, contact Connell, at 290-5725, or Leigh Hyndman, at (310) 849-1625.