The Washington State Board of Health is taking comments on a proposal that could lead to fines against ranchers, farmers and other animal owners for stockpiling manure too close to a ditch or property line.
The new rule would put other restrictions on storing livestock waste and would be an addition to existing manure-control laws enforced by the Departments of Agriculture and Ecology.
The board has yet to formally propose a rule, but has put out a draft for public review. The agency announced Monday it will accept comments until March 13.
Jack Field, executive director of the Washington Cattle Feeders Association, said feedlots already are obligated to contain manure. “I have a hard time seeing a need for a rule, based on the current regulatory environment,” he said. “It seems like the ultimate definition of bureaucratic creep.”
The proposal would rewrite the state’s “Keeping Animals” rule, which dates back to the 1920s. The rule requires stable manure in towns to be removed at least once a week in the summer and often enough in the winter to satisfy health officers.
For more than a decade, the State Board of Health has been contemplating expanding the law to apply to animal waste from household pets to commercial livestock. A 2018 background report by the board’s staff didn’t mention pets, but did recommend writing a rule that could apply to small and large cattle operations.
“It’s an effort to make it more relevant in today’s regulatory structure,” health board policy adviser Stuart Glasoe said.
Under the proposed rule, manure couldn’t be stockpiled within 100 feet of a drainage ditch, unless the ditch was uphill or protected by a levee. Manure couldn’t be stored within 35 feet of a public right-of-way or another person’s property.
Manure would have to be contained or covered and stored for no longer than a year, according to the draft proposal.
Besides dogs, cats and cattle, the rule would apply to horses, mules, donkeys, bison, sheep, goats, swine, rabbits, llamas, alpacas, ostriches, poultry, waterfowl, game bird and other species “so designated by statute,” according to the proposal.
Back Country Horsemen of Washington legislative liaison Jeff Chapman said many horse owners would immediately find themselves out of compliance with a new rule.
“Some of us will be able to handle it pretty well and others will have to make major changes,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to see thousands of horses sent to slaughter because people couldn’t afford them anymore.”
The Washington State Dairy Federation does not oppose the proposal drafted by the board’s staff, according to a federation official. Other farm groups have been more critical, arguing the new rule would expose producers to more complaints.
Washington Cattlemen’s Association lobbyist Mark Streuli said the rule should exempt commercial agriculture. “There’s plenty of regulations on commercial agriculture,” he said. “We’re still pushing on this and trying to fight back.”
Jean Mendoza, executive director of Friends of Toppenish Creek, a Central Washington environmental group, said the need for a Keeping Animals rule hasn’t changed over the decades. “The whole idea is to protect human health,” she said.
Local health officials should have the authority to regulate manure, she said. “I think it’s important to keep that option open.”