SALEM, Ore. — As part of the recent Board of Agriculture meeting, representatives from the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) gave an overview of the ODA Ag Water Quality program. The summary included a review of the policy framework, programs, and partners and concluded with a tour of the Corvallis area OSU Willamette Valley Agriculture and Water Quality Long-term Study.
The ODA Ag Water Quality Program assists farmers and ranchers to address water pollution and helps the industry prevent and control water pollution from agricultural activities.
The policy framework begins with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Federal Clean Water Act. In Oregon, the DEQ is the delegated authority to monitor and develop criteria to meet water quality standards, identify impaired waters and develop and implement Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).
The ODA Ag Water Quality Program is one of the state agencies that partner with the Oregon DEQ to meet those standards, using an outcomes based regulatory program which relies on area rules as well as local advisory committees to create local plans tailored to their conditions on the ground and implement activities to prevent and control water pollution from ag activities.
Working with local advisory committees and partnerships with the state’s 45 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), the program has created 38 watershed-based Agricultural Water Quality Management Areas throughout the state, each with an Agricultural Water Quality Management Area Plan and Rules. Regulations provide landowners the flexibility on how to achieve required outcomes suitable for their farm or ranch. In addition, the SWCD partnership provides local experts and technical assistance to landowners to meet the standards.
In addition to the Management Area Plans, the Ag Water Quality Program developed a systematic approach to assess conditions on agricultural lands that may impact water quality. These focus areas and Strategic Implementation Areas (SIAs) help prioritize resources to improve the water quality associated with agricultural lands and activities.
ODA’s Agricultural Water Quality Program prioritizes work in these areas:
- Streamside vegetation: agricultural activities must allow streamside vegetation to establish and grow to provide shade on perennial and some intermittent streams, stabilize banks, and filter pollutants. These efforts also result in improved fish and wildlife habitats.
- Erosion control: keep soil in place and out of streams and ditches.
- Manure and nutrients: use efficiently to keep them out of streams and ditches.
A Memorandum of Agreement between Oregon DEQ and ODA is in place to assist agencies with collaborative efforts to meet legal obligations relating to agricultural nonpoint source pollution and clarify roles, responsibilities, and program coordination. The two agencies are currently working through a process of updating the current MOA with the goal of having the revised MOA completed by then end of 2022.
In the afternoon the Board members toured OSU Willamette Valley Agriculture and Water Quality Long-term Study locations along Oak Creek to see and discuss the ag water quality and quantity study and give board members a first-hand look at how these programs and plans are working.
The tour was hosted by OSU’s Dr. Carlos Ochoa and Derek Godwin.
— State Board of Agriculture newsletter, ODA