On February 4, 2016, the First Amendment Project, representing the Environmental Law Foundation (“ELF”), successfully intervened in two lawsuits brought by a handful of Monterey County corporate farming operations. The lawsuits seek a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board from releasing public records to ELF that report, among other things, the amount of nitrate used in fertilizer and irrigated water in the region. These documents are called Total Nitrogen Applied (TNA) forms and ELF requested them pursuant to the California Public Records Act, Government Code section 6250 et seq.
Fertilizer from irrigated agriculture is the primary source of nitrate pollution in drinking water wells in the Central Coast Region. It threatens hundreds of wells and thousands of people. In an effort to monitor and combat nitrate pollution, the Water Quality Control Board requires certain agricultural operations that have a high risk of nitrate loading to submit TNA forms.
The plaintiffs in Rava Ranches, Inc. v. Cal. Regional Water Bd., Case No. 16-cv-000255 and Triangle Farms, Inc. v. Cal. Regional Water Bd., Case No. 16-cv-000257, claim that the information contained in their TNA forms contain trade secrets or are “crop reports” exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act. The Water Quality Control Board disagrees, and has released hundreds of TNA forms to ELF in response to its request. In fact, the only TNA forms that have not been released to ELF are those submitted by the plaintiffs in above mentioned actions.
A hearing on plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in both cases is set for March 4, 2016.