Oregon’s farm regulators will be paying closer attention to water quality problems in seven new watersheds under an expansion of their “strategic implementation area” program.

Traditionally, the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s water quality investigations were driven by complaints, but the agency worried that this approach didn’t consistently uncover problems.

The agency has more recently been self-initiating its water quality compliance efforts in “strategic implementation areas,” with waterways in Wasco and Clackamas counties serving as early test cases.

Relying on aerial photographs and other information, regulators identify problems — such as streams denuded of vegetation or impacted by manure runoff — and notify the landowners, who are encouraged to seek help from their local soil and water conservation district.

“There is a regulatory backstop, but in our experience, we don’t typically need to go to that,” said John Byers, manager of ODA’s agricultural water quality program.

The program is now being rolled out in additional watersheds:

• Three Mile Creek in Wasco County.

• Upper Johnson Creek in Multnomah County.

• Indian Ford Creek in Deschutes County.

• Wagner Creek in Jackson County.

• Lundren Creek, Calvin Creek and Fishhawk Creek in Columbia County.

• Lower Salt Creek in Polk County

• Portions of the North Lower Yamhill River in Yamhill County.

Regulators don’t have the resources to increase scrutiny of all Oregon watersheds, so the program is focusing on particular streams and rivers for several reasons.

In some cases, the waterways were chosen because of the need to improve fish habitat, while others were included at the request of the local soil and water conservation district.

Another six or seven watersheds are expected to included in the program next year, Byers said.

State lawmakers bolstered the capacity of local districts to assist landowners with $1 million allocated for watershed enhancement, he said.

“They are the technical assistance on the ground, if needed,” said Byers.

Recommended for you