Is this situation a source of pollution? DOE will affirm that it is by visual confirmation alone, not through testing.
Organization comments on updated non-point pollution plan
The Cattle Producers of Washington recently submitted comments on the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Non-Point Pollution plan. CPoW believes that instead of targeting landowners for assumed pollution with no evidence, the Department needs to be willing to pursue site-based, source-specific evidence. To view a copy of the DOE Non-Point Pollution Plan, click here: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/Wq/nonpoint/index.html
When looking at a potential pollutant, like fecal coliform, all possible contributors need to be considered and site-based, source-specific testing should be used to confirm the actual pollutant. For instance, doesn’t this situation have the “substantial potential to pollute?”
Wildlife contributions to items like high fecal coliform levels are never considered when a waterbody is considered “impaired” by the Department of Ecology. Despite tools to test if the contamination is from a wild or domestic animal, DOE refuses to do species-confirmation testing.
The comments submitted by CPoW to DOE are below:
This letter is to provide formal comment from the Cattle Producers of Washington to the Department of Ecology on the May 2015 draft of the Non-Point pollution plan. While the document is wide ranging in its scope, we find that it fails to answer key questions in regards to water quality that must be asked. Most significantly, DOE presumes to start managing or mitigating non-point pollution without ever expending a word to talk about determining the sources of certain contaminants with certainty. Fecal coliform pollution, while potentially caused by a variety of sources including wildlife, is always considered the fault of a human activity. Working with modern scientific methods, such as DNA testing, to determine if the pollutants are human or animal sourced and, in addition, if that animal is domestic or wild, are not addressed in any capacity in this plan. The lack of any information on this topic prompts a serious question, “why not?”
If one of the goals of the plan is to secure funding from the EPA for water quality related projects, why is this project not listed among them? DOE Staff reports at meetings on this plan reported DOE received as much as $3 million from EPA in the last grant cycle. Those funds should be spent identifying the source of a problem, not only its symptom. This item proves as only one exemplary of how DOE is willing to continue to use outdated methods and not pursue new tools to answer water quality questions.
The DOE seems too ready to rest in the wording of RCW 90.48.120 that allows pollution to be defined by the Department’s “opinion.” While this kind of thinking may have been sufficient when the law was passed in 1945 or good enough in 1992 when the law was last revised, it is not sufficient for 2015 when questions about source are critically important. In addition, DOE seems eager to apply certain portions of the law, including its enforcement authority, to non-point situations while ignoring others.
For instance, RCW 90.48.450 states, “Prior to issuing a notice of violation related to discharges from agricultural activity on agricultural land, the department shall consider whether an enforcement action would contribute to the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses. Any enforcement action shall attempt to minimize the possibility of such conversion.” However, DOE’s enforcement actions on non-point pollution often cause agricultural operations to go out of business.
A notable example is the case of Dayton rancher Joe Lemire who was put of the cattle business, largely due to unproven allegations that his cattle caused contamination of an intermittent creek running through his property. While DOE never tested the water on the Lemire ranch to confirm the pollution, DOE’s allegation that conditions on the Lemire ranch had the “substantial potential to pollute” Pataha Creek were enough to force Lemire to change how his ranch was managed. Other potential sources of the alleged pollution were never eliminated.
These kinds of actions by DOE assure that “partnerships” will likely never be reached by agriculturalists who want substantial proof of harm before they are forced to change their managerial practices.
Lastly, while Cattle Producers of Washington is listed on page 60 as a member of the Agriculture and Water Quality Advisory Committee, our representative on the committee has shared that the committee is essentially directed to tell DOE how best to enforce their regulations, not how to improve the quality of the approach. By failing to pursue site-based, source-specific testing and actively fighting legislation that would call for such an approach, DOE is not sincerely pursuing the goal of clean water for Washingtonians.
Clean water is a concern for every farmer and rancher, as water is critically important to the healthy production of crops and livestock. CPoW is not arguing that clean water should not be an objective, but we are calling for smarter approaches to this topic that make use of modern methods to pinpoint problems within a watershed. We would recommend that additional research be expended on how to make site-based, source-specific testing for pollution a priority of this plan. If adequate testing is implemented, fewer tax dollars will be wasted. in creating solutions in search of a problem. It will also allow for sane, reasonable benchmarks for items like fecal coliform that account for contribution by wildlife and other uncontrollable factors before calling for corrective actions that may not address the baseline readings.
Monte McPeak, President
Scott Nielsen, Vice President;DOE Ag Water Quality Committee member
Cattle Producers of Washington