The state Department of Ecology is changing the way it evaluates farming operations for potential pollution, and the executive director of the Washington Agriculture Legal Foundation says it is a good first step.
The agency recently unveiled the changes it is planning during a agricultural and water quality advisory committee meeting in Lacey, Wash. Under the changes, letters from the department to producers would include specific information about observed pollution problems, an offer for farmers to access documentation related to their operation and a clear timeline for producers to contact the agency.
The changes are a direct response to feedback from the advisory committee, said Kelly Susewind, special assistant to Ecology director Maia Bellon.
“We are always open to improving our processes,” Susewind said.
A major component of the changes is increased outreach to landowners through producer groups and conservation districts, Susewind said.
“There’s clear agreement that we can be more successful protecting water quality with a widespread understanding of what problems exist and what’s contributing to the problems,” Susewind said. “We encourage landowners to participate in these outreach efforts.”
“We’ve got hope,” said Toni Meacham, director of the foundation and a Connell, Wash., attorney and rancher. “We haven’t seen them make strides of this nature before. Just realizing they are listening to us, they are implementing some of those changes, really gives the sense maybe we can continue and find common ground somewhere.”
Meacham called Ecology’s steps a good start, but noted that every landowner is different.
“There’s not one solution to fit all,” she said. “There’s so many different aspects of agriculture, you can’t work on one thing and think it’s going to help everybody else. Overall, a guy that raises wheat is different from a guy that raises cattle.”
The advisory group is scheduled to meet Dec. 10 in Ritzville, Wash. Meacham hopes to see the meetings continue.
“We have to continue to be vigilant, to move forward and we have to continue to work on it — our work’s not done,” she said. “But at least the communications with DOE are open.”
Meacham recommends farmers keep records and take photographs of their property.
“You need to be paying attention to what it is you’re doing and what influence your actions have on riparian areas and water quality — that’s never going to change, you’re going to always need to do that as a landowner,” she said.
Meacham hopes to work with different commodity groups to put together a free online video to provide education on the law. It would be available in 2015.