Farm Bureau official warns fights loom over water, chemicals
By MITCH LIES
ALBANY, Ore. -- A top Oregon farm lobbyist says agriculture's effect on water quality will likely be a point of contention in the 2013 Legislature.
"We've been under pressure in both the courts and legislative arenas for the past two years around that issue," said Oregon Farm Bureau government affairs director Katie Fast, "and we're expecting that to continue this next session."
Speaking Nov. 14 at the 2012 Willamette Valley Ag Expo, Fast told farmers that Oregon's right-to-farm law also could come under attack in 2013.
"We expect to see legislation to change or repeal the right-to-farm and forest act that protects your ability to farm in EFU (exclusive farm use) zones," Fast said.
Fast also said she expects to see a bill to circumvent Oregon's preemption law, which bars counties from implementing county-specific pesticide-use regulations.
Fast also said she has heard that the state Department of Water Resources may seek a water-right fee for each water right.
With many farms carrying multiple water rights, the $100 per water-right fee could be costly for farmers, Fast said.
"You can have a farm paying the same amount (for its water rights) as a city," Fast said.
On the plus side, Fast said the farm community may have expanded opportunities to participate in voluntary pesticide stewardship partnerships that are designed to improve water quality.
"That might allow us to offset and challenge some of these more government-down regulations," Fast said.
She said efforts are under way in Oregon that could lead to expanded opportunities for water development.
Gov. John Kitzhaber's staff currently is in discussions with farm, tribe, conservation and municipal communities "on how to move forward on water development projects," Fast said.
The effort currently is focusing on increasing irrigation water in the Umatilla Basin by better utilizing winter flows in the Columbia River. But, Fast said, the Farm Bureau is trying to expand the discussion to encompass other projects in Oregon, including one in the Willamette Valley.
In terms of the state budget, Fast said indications are that revenues are stagnant or down from 2011-13. The revenue forecast will put added pressure on lawmakers to consider increasing fees to fund state natural resource agencies, Fast said.
Also, Fast said, the Farm Bureau is considering proposing legislation that will make it harder for state and federal agencies to move forward on wetland restoration projects that could affect neighboring farm lands.
"That is a huge issue that we are hearing more about," Fast said.
"We'll have several bills related to that issue that look at a better review of those type of projects before they move forward, and also fixing some of the liability exemptions that exist currently if those projects are impacting neighboring lands," Fast said.