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Ag water quality bill moves to House floor

by MITCH LIES  Capital Press April 22, 2011

SALEM -- Agricultural water quality regulation in Oregon will go through the state agriculture department, and not the state environmental agency, under a bill gaining support from lawmakers.

The House Transportation and Economic Development Committee on April 20 moved House Bill 3613 to the floor with a do-pass recommendation by a 7-1 vote. Only Rep. Jefferson Smith, D-Portland, who questioned the need for the bill, opposed the motion.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is the lead agency for regulating agricultural water quality under existing law and will remain the lead agency under proposed standards, Smith said.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, who is a chief sponsor of the bill, said, however: "We want to make it as clear as we possibly can."

Oregon farm representatives brought the bill forward because they were concerned the Department of Environmental Quality was positioning itself as the lead agency for regulating agricultural water quality.

The concern emerged during DEQ's attempt to adopt the strictest water quality standards in the nation as part of the agency's comprehensive toxics reduction strategy.

The concern persists despite assurances from DEQ Director Dick Pedersen that the department has no desire to assume regulatory responsibilities of agricultural water quality.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture regulates agricultural water quality under a memorandum of understanding from DEQ, the agency responsible for administering the Clean Water Act in Oregon.

Pedersen and ODA Director Katy Coba spoke in support of the bill in the April 20 hearing.

"The purpose of the amended bill is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the ODA for agricultural water quality," Pedersen and Coba wrote in a prepared statement. "This bill .... clarifies in statute the current working relationship between ODA and DEQ."

The House committee moved HB3613 despite objections from the Oregon Environmental Council and other environmental advocacy groups. The groups said the bill eases burdens on farms and ranches by stating the natural resources industry will work to protect water quality "to the maximum extent practicable."

Salem attorney Joe Hobson, who represents the Oregon Farm Bureau, said that language is used in the Clean Water Act and should not be construed as an easing of responsibilities.


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