Labor may be the top issue facing Santa Maria vegetable growers this season, but water isn’t far behind.

“Water will be the million-dollar issue — or the multi-billion dollar issue — for the rest of everyone’s lives and well beyond,” said Claire Wineman, president of the Guadalupe, Calif.-based Grower Shippers Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Much of the focus this year will be on the state’s Region 3 Regional Water Quality Control Board, which oversees threats to water quality in the Santa Maria Valley.

One problem growers have with the board is the amount of paperwork involved in completing their monitoring assessments, Wineman said.

With so much focus on paper, growers aren’t able to devote as much time as they’d like to actually improving the quality of their water, she said.

The grower-shippers association plans to lobby this year in support of streamlining the monitoring process.

Nevertheless, Wineman is optimistic the valley will have adequate water for at least the immediate future, thanks to a variety of sources from which growers can draw.

As far as 2013 is concerned, Judy Lundberg, co-owner of Santa Maria, Calif.-based Babe Farms, said the valley seems to be in good shape, in terms of both the quality of its water and the amount of it.

“We’re not seeing any issues with water in our wells,” she said. “Maybe 10 years ago we had to drop the wells a little bit, but we haven’t had to do that in a long time.”

That could change if drought conditions persist in the Santa Maria Valley, but as far as 2013 goes, Babe Farms has sufficient supplies, Lundberg said.

Keeping up with the water board’s new demands — some of which have already been introduced, others of which are still coming — isn’t easy, Lundberg said, but it’s a necessary component of doing business.

“They’ve definitely imposed some restrictions that are difficult to keep up with,” she said.

Some of the new restrictions are tangible, such as one concerning runoff, which mandates that farms can’t have tail water that may contain pesticides.

For the most part, though, the headaches are paperwork related, Lundberg said.