The Washington Department of Ecology agriculture and water quality advisory committee met for the first time recently, and members say they are looking for clarity on issues that impact farmers and ranchers.
Sandy Howard, spokeswoman for Ecology, said the Lacey, Wash., meeting was the first formal advisory committee involving the agricultural community. Livestock, dairy, potatoes, wheat, shellfish and environmental groups are represented on the committee.
Ecology Director Maia Bellon emphasized she was looking for guidance from the group, Howard said.
“The first few meetings are going to be mainly informational for ag, learning how (Ecology) is doing what they’re doing, and pointing out where we see the weak spots,” said Aaron Golladay, first vice president of the Washington State Farm Bureau.
Vic Stokes, president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and a rancher in Twisp, Wash., co-chairs the advisory committee with Bellon.
Scientific procedures, protocol and well-defined goals are some priorities Stokes saw emerge from participant feedback.
“Still in the back of everybody’s mind is ‘substantial potential to pollute,’ and actually what that means,” Stokes said. “Ag producers want a little clarity there, and as we go forward, I think we’ll work through some of those issues, hopefully.”
“We believe there should be written protocols for training and testing of (Ecology) employees so everybody’s on the same page for communication and consistency of how DOE is doing testing, training and site visits,” said Toni Meacham, attorney and executive director of the Washington Agriculture Legal Foundation.
Meacham said those concerns are on the agenda for the next meeting. Bellon will circulate the department’s current standard operating procedures for comments from group members.
“My biggest priority is to make sure the Department of Ecology understands where ag’s coming from, and that agriculture understands where Department of Ecology is coming from, and the two of us can work together to come to some good decisions,” Golladay said.
“The meetings create communication, and that’s what we’re after,” said Kelly Susewind, water quality program manager for Ecology. “What we want is for ranchers, growers and landowners to talk to us — we are in high listen mode.”
Meacham is optimistic about the chance to see improvement. Ag may not get everything it’s asking for, but it can’t hurt to keep making the requests, she said.
“It’s a huge step in the right direction that Ecology is open to these meetings and willing to work on these things,” she said. “It’s a huge step forward for agriculture and towards what we have been asking for for the last 20 or 30 years.”
The group next meets May 1, at a location to be determined in Eastern Washington, Howard said. The group will meet roughly every six weeks, Stokes said.
A website will track meetings and meeting agendas.