Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bills Pertaining to Livestock and Water Quality

There are two bills going through the WA legislative process currently that pertain to livestock and water quality. One is in the state Senate, the other is in the House.

1. HB 1152: Providing technical assistance to achieve voluntary compliance with water pollution control statutes.

This bill would require that the State Department verify the livestock are actually causing a water quality problem and give the owner assistance and time to voluntarily resolve it before penalizing them for a water quality violation related to livestock.

The Bill Summary says, "For lands on which livestock graze or seek feed in pastures, fields, or rangeland, the Department must first make a determination that a water quality problem exists and a pollution violation has occurred due to the presence of livestock. This determination must be made before a notice of violation or a penalty may be assessed. When the Department determines that a pollution violation has occurred or is about to occur, it must first attempt to achieve voluntary compliance by offering information and technical assistance in writing. If education and technical assistance fail to remedy the problem, the Department may then issue a notice of violation."

2. SSB 5723: Addressing water quality issues associated with livestock operations.

This bill directs the Commission to examine the livestock and water quality issue, and requires that authorities do fecal coliform and DNA testing to verify that the water quality problems are actually coming from the livestock on the property and not from other sources such as wildlife before penalizing a livestock operation for a water quality violation.

The senate bill report has some interesting discussion on both sides of the issue, including one example given of a farm that was fined $6,000 for the "potential to pollute" the water, although he was taking significant voluntary steps to prevent a violation and there appears to have been no actual violation.

It is worth noting that current law allows for fines of $10,000 per individual violation per day on top of other penalties for water quality violations.

Both of these bills require the state to actually prove that a farmer's livestock is causing a water quality issue before penalizing them for a violation.

It looks like neither of these bills has made a lot of progress, but they have been "reintroduced and retained" several times so far. Neither has a companion bill yet. You can contact the relevant lawmakers and ask them to take action on these bills at this link.

I am no expert, but to me the first bill (HB1152) looks the most promising. It gives more leeway in how exactly a problem is determined (rather than limiting it to or requiring two specific tests), and also requires that the owner be given a chance to fix the problem. Either one seems like a potential step in the right direction, though.

What do you think?

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