Lack of water quality data before projects poses problem
By MITCH LIES
MEDFORD, Ore. -- More engagement by state officials with local water-quality advisory committees could improve Oregon's agricultural water-quality-management program, an agriculture advocate says.
Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau, said some local advisory committees have become "disenchanted" with the state's management of its agricultural water quality program because of a scarcity of communication between the state and local leaders.
"They are only being engaged every other year," she said. "And when they get together (with the state) it is really about the words in the (water quality management plan) document, and not what is going on in the water and on the ground."
Fast's comments to the State Board of Agriculture in Medford, Ore., Sept. 19 came as part of an Oregon Department of Agriculture review of the state's nearly 20-year-old agricultural water quality management program.
The agency initiated the review in response to recent heightened interest in the state's management of nonpoint source pollution.
Also prompting the review was an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality decision to toughen water-quality standards.
In preparation for a legislative hearing, the department developed a detailed report on the history and future goals of its program.
"As we began to develop the report, we saw it as an opportunity to do a detailed internal review of our program," said Ray Jaindl, director of ODA's natural resources program area.
The agency, under the direction of the Board of Agriculture, now is considering revising how it administers the program. And the agency is devising how to use additional state funds lawmakers in 2011 provided the agency to monitor water quality.
Fast told the board the Farm Bureau is pleased the state is enhancing its water-quality monitoring.
To date, the state can't show whether stream conditions are improving, Jaindl said, because the state did not document conditions in riparian areas before implementing water-quality improvement projects.
"We agree there needs to be a strengthening of the monitoring program, and that we need statewide baseline data so we can tell our story," Fast said.
In regards to enforcement strategies under consideration, Fast said the Farm Bureau supports using visual observation by state officials to trigger investigations, rather than random tax lot searches, which is a regulatory option ODA staff introduced to the board.
"We've very concerned about the random tax-lot selection," Fast said.
Peter Ruffier of Clean Water Services in Hillsboro, Ore., testified that he believed the state needs to better define a compliance strategy.
There are some areas where the state's plan can be improved, he said.
Also discussed at the board meeting was whether to condense the number of local water-quality management plans. Currently, 38 basin plans are in place.
Board member Jan Kerns cautioned against lumping diverse basins into a single or a few plans.
"We cannot have a one-size-fits-all in moving forward on this," she said.
ODA Director Katy Coba said farmers, ranchers, conservationists and others will have additional opportunities to comment on the agency's water-quality-management plan.
ODA will be presenting proposals at the Oregon Association of Conservation District's annual meeting in November in Eugene and meeting with industry representatives and the water-quality program's advisory committee before the first of the year, Jaindl said.
"We are looking to get things in place as quickly as possible with the support of our constituents," Jaindl said.