The annual WCA Convention was last week at Suncadia. As usual we had some great speakers at the Water and Ecology meeting. Here is a summary of what we learned.
- Madi Clark from Washington Policy Center discussed the Ag Center located in Kennewick, WA. WPC monitors how our elected officials vote on washingtonvotes.org. Madi spoke about Whats Upstream. This was a government funded hate campaign against Washington Ag. A few groups have been started to investigate the funding of the website and lobbying, including Save Family Farming. Whatsupstream.com proclaims to be about holding polluters accountable, but has targeted ag. It lists ag as a major contributor to water pollution. Intent is to further political agenda using $655,000 of taxpayer money. NW Fisheries Commission is one of the major players in this agenda. The purpose is to “educate” people on pollution, but it is believed that the real intent is to push buffers around all waterways. This thought process is stemming from believing that buffers increase water quality. There is no scientific basis for this thought. There is no scientific basis for this on the website. Historic pollution and natural causes are not accounted for on the website. Current research shows that the public has 76% trust in farmers and ag. There is a bill out there called the Regulatory Integrity Act that still needs to be voted on.
- Brandon Spencer- Brandon owns a ranch in Adams County, WA with the John Wayne Trail bisecting the ranch. This is the old Milwaukee rail bed. The Milwaukee went through bankruptcy proceedings, meaning that this specific rail line was never rail banked. Washington obtained this land through the bankruptcy proceedings by forgiving debt. Why does this pertain? Washington States Park Department is currently planning to spend $100 million to develop this trail. Due to the topography, this could be a drop in the bucket towards development. Portions of this trail are still in use by other railroads. Portions of this trail are owned by private landowners. The State is required by statute to put a cross state trail in somewhere, but using this trail is not feasible with the hindrances they are up against. The State is currently $480 million behind on maintenance on all State Parks. There is currently a limited operational budget. There are limited trail users and there has not been a study to this day on how many users there are on the trail. And no study on the economic impacts this trail would have, if any. One of the major issues to this trail is the fact that portions of the trail were deeded to the railroad by “reverter” deed. This means that if the land is not used for a railroad for one year, the land reverts back to the original land owner, successors, or assigns. The State is ignoring these deeds and continuing to move forward with development. With no oversight over the trail, no funds, and no clear ownership, this seems to be a waste taxpayer dollars.
- Scott Horngren from Western Resource Legal Center spoke on the program, inclusive of the intern WCA was able to receive earlier this year. The WRLC intern worked on an ESA paper comparing State and Federal law to use to help with reform attempts. WRLC also represents WCA in the Northwest Environmental Advocates v. EPA case filed in Federal Court. That case is currently in settlement negotiations. WRLC also helped WCA draft comments on Wildlife Damage Rules leading to a final rule that reflected some common sense. WRLC is currently working on a Clean Water Act/ESA case in Oregon that focuses on fish. This case claims that grazing in watersheds leads to increased stream temperatures, leading to fish mortality. The Forest Service has determined that there is no scientific basis for this allegation. WRLC further presented on CAFO and their impacts to Washington ag. Currently one of the biggest issues is who has the burden to prove a discharge? The EPA says ag has to prove lack of a discharge. Cattlemen say that EPA has to prove a discharge The CAFO rules are now tied in to WOTUS due to the the EPA trying to expand their jurisdiction. The Federal Courts have been holding EPA in check, but we must be proactive.
- Toni Meacham- DOE Updates:
Last meeting was September 20 in Spokane.
It was reported that the letters sent out last year by DOE did not get the response DOE expected. Why?
- Education- having speakers like Dr. Tate, Dr. Buckhouse, and Dr. Hudson have allowed people to understand what pollution is and what pollution is not. The RCW that controls this type of pollution is 90.48.080 and .120. I always tell people to actually read the RCW. Many people are getting these letters and instead of responding to DOE, they are contacting attorney’s, the Livestock Water Quality Group, WCA, or whomever. If the Conservation Districts are contacted, then DOE is told.
- Testing- many people have begun to test the water flowing through their property or have started test plots.
- Resistance- DOE tends to pick on the same people. Many of the people that received letters this time have received letters in the past and made changes. They don’t want to remain a target.
- The complaint system- DOE has an anonymous complaint system where anyone can turn in anyone else and the landowner has no right to find out who turned them in. The ag industry has asked for this system to change and DOE refuses. Many landowners are frustrated with this complaint system and refuse to respond anymore.
DOE will not expand their enforcement area this year, they will go back to Whitman, Columbia, Asotin, and Garfield Counties and have already done just that. They were supposed to expand to Stevens and Okanogan County but do not have the manpower as they did not have the response they thought they should have. DOE will be sending more letters out and may take enforcement action.
For example, in Whitman County, 10 letters went out in from July to September for evaluations that took place in March. 7 of those letters offered technical assistance, three of those letters were termed “Warning” letters. Many of the people that have received letters have had letters previously. Many of these people have already changed their practices, made changes in their use of the land. One of these people went from 200 head to 20. He has stated that DOE is not factoring in wildlife over which he has no control.
We need to tell our story!
- Hirst- The Hirst decision came out of the WA Supreme Court and is a 73 page document that hinders the exempt well statute. The Hirst decision has taken Washington by surprise and has led to some Counties, Spokane and Whatcom, putting a moratorium on building and development permits. Currently we are hoping for a legislative fix to this Supreme Court decision. It is too early to tell what is going to happen, so the best thing we can do is to talk about how this decision impacts us as landowners and keep the discussion going.