By MATTHEW WEAVER
The directors of three Washington state agencies will tell legislators the substance of their discussions about water pollution regulations during a legislative work session next week.
Several representatives of the state's agriculture industry say they are concerned that the discussions could lead to new regulations on potential nonpoint source pollution from farms.
The directors of the state Department of Agriculture, Department of Ecology and Washington Conservation Commission will talk during a joint state Senate and House committee work session beginning at noon Nov. 29 in Senate Hearing Room 4 in the J.A. Cherberg building in Olympia.
Josh Baldi, special assistant to the director of Ecology, said the talks have been productive, but not designed to develop new laws. They are intended to improve working relationships between the three agencies, he said.
Outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for new water pollution standards, but Baldi said it's too early to tell what those regulations might look like.
"If there is proposed legislation -- and we emphasize 'if' -- some of the goals will be known," he said.
"The directors will communicate as soon as there is something to communicate," Baldi said.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, expects the directors will propose new legislation in December.
Field said the new rules would require all animal operations to have a pollution clean-up plan, including farming operations that receive manure or nutrients from those farms. They would require periodic updates, soil sampling and testing and allow regulatory agencies to review and approve any aspect of the plan affected by the Clean Water Act.
"We don't have a clear decision, direction or outline as to what we're trying to achieve," Field said.
Discussions about potential pollution have been going on for two decades, said Jay Gordon, executive director of the Washington Dairy Federation.
"Every human that ever walked the planet is a potential polluter, every Corvette is a potential speeder, every gun is a potential murder weapon," he said. "If you're a farm or ranch and you can't have any potential pollution, wow, that's a pretty impossible standard to meet."
Washington Association of Wheat Growers vice president Nicole Berg said the group wants to make sure everyone is on the same page with regard to best management practices.
WAWG believes someone who doesn't adhere to the rules should pay the consequences, Berg said. But the organization also wants to see if any decisions have been made in the director talks without grower input.
"There's been a real silence, and sometimes silence can be deafening," Berg said.
Gordon isn't too concerned about unreasonable new regulations, citing good existing relationships with legislators and the environmental community.
"We've got a pretty good reputation that we're problem solvers," he said. "If there's a problem, then we'll solve it."