Agricultural groups are questioning the need for a new law regulating applying manure on cropland, though they expect the Washington Department of Agriculture will pursue one.

“First and foremost, I’d like to see it go away. In political reality, we’ll have a lot of discussion in the Legislature,” Washington Cattlemen’s Association President Vic Stokes said.

WSDA is drafting legislation to set up a licensing program for spreading manure on 20 or more acres in three counties — two in Western Washington and one in Eastern Washington — and in watersheds deemed to have water quality problems.

A draft of the bill, which has yet to be introduced, does not name the counties. It’s widely believed the westside counties would be Skagit and Whatcom counties, while the eastside county would be Yakima.

Contaminated shellfish beds have raised concerns in Skagit and Whatcom counties. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working with Yakima Valley dairies to reduce groundwater pollution.

Manure applied at the wrong place and wrong time and in the wrong amounts can leach into groundwater or run off to shellfish beds and fish habitat, according to WSDA.

The new law would require manure applicators to have a state license and for farmers to file application plans. WSDA compares the bill to its pesticide licensing program.

The EPA’s Washington director, Tom Eaton, said the EPA and state officials met a couple months ago with Lummi Nation representatives about the tribe’s shellfish beds in Whatcom County.

The tribe announced in September it was closing 335 acres at Portage Bay because of worsening water quality caused by fecal coliform bacteria.

“I think there was a consensus that a manure-applicator licensing program would be a step in the right direction,” Eaton said.

Federal and state environmental officials have ongoing programs tailored to reduce pollution in Yakima Valley groundwater and in Samish Bay in Skagit County.

“The feedback I’ve gotten is the local efforts would be supplemented” by a manure-applicator law, the EPA’s Eaton said.

Efforts to reach a Lummi Nation official for comment were unsuccessful.

Washington Farm Bureau Director of Governmental Relations Tom Davis said officials haven’t shown they need another rule to stop water pollution.

“They already have laws in place to deal with this,” he said.

Davis said he didn’t think the bill would change agricultural practices. “But potentially it opens up new liability for farmers,” he said. “It could be another avenue for folks to go after and legally abuse farmers.”

Washington State Dairy Federation Executive Director Jay Gordon said the new rule would affect dairies that supply and apply manure.

“It’s another layer of requirements and regulations and fees,” he said.

WSDA’s timing is also an issue with agriculture groups. Two members of the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Development Committee scolded a WSDA official at a meeting in November for bringing the issue up a couple of months before the 2015 session.

The Washington Department of Ecology’s Agriculture & Water Quality Advisory Committee was briefed on the proposal Dec. 10, a month before lawmakers convene.

“I wish the department of agriculture would have vetted this bill, this concept, this issue through this work group,” said Jack Field, executive vice president of the cattlemen’s association. “This is poor form and timing for agency-requested legislation.”

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