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 Farmers fear new state rules will eliminate flood irrigation

published Oct. 23, 2003


Proposed agriculture water quality rules could require some Klamath Basin growers to abandon flood irrigation, farmers told state officials Wednesday.

The plan is not intended to limit flood irrigation, but the actual rules do not say that in the draft, said Tom Mallams, chairman of a local advisory committee. And flood irrigation may cause water temperatures to increase and promote nutrient loading.

Mallams said the law the state Agriculture Department is using to establish water quality rules "is a zero-tolerance law. Even minute increases in nutrient loading could be perceived as non-compliant."

Mallams' observation came as the department held the first of two hearings in Klamath County as part of its effort to craft an agricultural water quality plan for the Klamath headwaters.

Since 1995, the department has been writing agricultural water quality management plans for each of the state's 39 b asins. The intent is to eliminate the degradation of state waters. Thirty-five of them are complete, with the Klamath watershed and three others left to be completed.

Three Oregon Department of Agriculture officials conducted a public hearing Tuesday in Klamath Falls. Eight persons attended the event, of whom two offered testimony.

But the 15-minute public hearing was prefaced by a lengthy discussion between attendees and the department officials.

The department has gotten input from a local advisory committee, of which, four members attended the Wednesday hearing: Linda Long, Sue Mattenberg, Bill Rust, and Mallams.

Mallams said the state is using two laws to create administrative rules that will govern agricultural water quality within the Klamath Watershed, and neither should be used as a basis for forming local agriculture-runoff policy.

"We don't need either," he said. The local plan "should be based on local input, including that of the Klamath County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"They could do the job."

Doug Whitsett, a veterinarian and president of Water For Life, also spoke at the hearing.

He said the law the state regulators a relying on was written to regulate what are called "point" sources of pollution, such as the effluent from factories and sewage plants. Because it can't be traced to a single point of discharge, agricultural runoff is called "non-point."

"This statute was written to regulate point sources of water pollution," he said. "Its language is clearly inappropriate for regulation of agricultural practices."

The department is concerned that such runoff might overload state waters with nutrients, such as phosphorus. And that it can cause the warming of water bodies to above the safe level of 64 degrees.

Department water quality planner Timothy Stevenson said he appreciated the observations made by Mallams and Whitsett.

"We cannot eliminate all runoff," he said. "If it is an issue, we would manage it so that you would limit the runoff."

Raymond Jaindl, an assistant administrator for the department, said that each water quality plan is re-evaluated every two years. After two years in effect, "a report is issued covering how the rules worked and if there is a need for changes," he said.

Public comments on the plan will continue at another public hearing to be held at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Sprague River Community Center.

Written comments must be submitted by Nov. 17. To do so, write to: Oregon Department of Agriculture, Attn: Klamath Headwaters Public Comment, Natural Resources Division, 635 Capitol Street NE, Salem, OR 97301-2532.

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