Oregon Department of Agriculture: Outreach Regarding the Agricultural Water Quality Program
The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division hosted meetings this month across Oregon discussing the Department’s agricultural water quality program. At the May 9th meeting, Lisa Hanson, Deputy Director, explained the current status of the water quality program, and sought input from attendees about how the Department can improve the program.
Ms. Hanson explained that there are many misconceptions about the agricultural water quality program. She clarified that the program is mandatory, and agricultural landowners must comply with area-wide water quality standards set by the Department. However, what is flexible are the methods of compliance. The Department will work with local soil and water conservation districts and landowners to come up with innovative methods for meeting water quality standards, and funding is even available through the Department to make necessary changes to meet those standards.
One of the highlights of the discussion was Ms. Hanson’s coverage of the issue of measuring performance and improvement. Since there are not one-size-fits-all regulations for the agricultural water quality program, it is sometimes difficult to gauge progress. The Department started a pilot program to assess focus areas before a water quality improvement project and after. Through the program, the Department hopes to tell success stories and shine a spotlight on the dedication of Oregon’s agricultural producers. The Department is also working on inserting benchmarks and timelines into area standards to provide a better sense of when progress is achieved.
Another topic of discussion was enforcement of agricultural water quality standards. Ms. Hanson explained that currently the enforcement program is complaint-based. Some of the attendees were concerned that violations could not be effectively monitored if enforcement depends on the submission of complaints. However, Ms. Hanson discussed the fact that the Department’s policy is to work with landowners to achieve compliance, and that this non-confrontational approach has proved successful, evidenced by the fact that the Department is rarely forced to issue citations for noncompliance; generally warnings are enough. Landowners are typically willing to make necessary changes to meet agricultural water quality standards.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s agricultural water quality management area plans are available online at: http://oregon.gov/ODA/NRD/water_agplans.shtml. There are 38 area plans to date.
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