By MATTHEW WEAVER
Washington state ranchers expect the state Department of Ecology to propose new water quality regulations soon.
"It's imminently close," said Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, noting that the proposal could come before the state legislative session begins Jan. 14.
A Washington Department of Ecology spokesperson declined to comment on specifics of the proposal.
"We have not nailed it down and it would be unfair to talk about something that was not going to be viable," said Ecology water quality program spokesperson Sandy Howard.
Field wonders why the agencies would move forward with potential legislation without a state supreme court decision in case Dayton, Wash., rancher Joe Lemire. In November, Ecology argued before the court that Lemire represented substantial potential to pollute nearby Pataha Creek.
The state supreme court's decision will affect how Ecology moves forward, Field said.
Ritzville, Wash., rancher Jacob Harder raises about 650 animals on a cow-calf operation. Cow Creek runs through the ranch for several miles.
Harder said everyone is in favor of water quality, but he finds fault with the strident, no-compromise approach agencies take.
"You just can't build a program that's based on an office site opinion," he said.
The heads of Ecology, the state Department of Agriculture and the Washington Conservation Commission have been meeting on the issue.
Regulators often have a "narrow-minded, anti-grazing approach," Field said. "You'd think the only place nonpoint water quality pollution came from is from cattle."
The association would like to see the agency required to show a cow is causing pollution.
"We want there to be a clear line and a link that the action the state sees is contributing to water quality degradation," Field said. "Don't just simply say, 'I see cattle nearby, those are conditions that may lead' (to pollution)."
He doesn't believe Ecology or any regulatory agencies need more jurisdiction.
"They have all the tools they need to enforce the state's water quality standards," he said. "Why are we going through this exercise to create more regulation and more rules?"
Ranchers need to remain engaged in the political process, commenting and participating when a bill is introduced, Field said.
He also recommends ranchers take a proactive approach and assess their own operations as well. If they think they might have a water quality issue, they should fix it themselves or contact support like Washington State University Extension, their local conservation district or a private company.
"Get it addressed and fixed on their terms rather than as part of a regulatory action from a state or federal agency," he said.
"When people that have no stake in making a living off (the land) start dictating how it's going to be done, it usually ends up in a train wreck," Harder said. "It'd be nice if rules had a clause that if a rule was just at loggerheads with common sense, common sense ought to be at least considered."