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Water quality frequently asked questions

History of the Agricultural Water Quality Management Program

The Agricultural Water Quality Management Program (AgWQMP), administered by the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Program area, is responsible for addressing water pollution associated with agricultural lands and activities. The Agricultural Water Quality Management Program has evolved in response to requirements under various state and federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act.

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What does the Agricultural Water Quality Management Act do?

The Agricultural Water Quality Act directs ODA to work with farmers and ranchers to develop Agricultural Water Quality Management area plans (AgWQM area plans) and area rules for watersheds. ODA began the watershed planning process once water quality issues in a watershed were identified and a watershed plan was required by state or federal law. One reason for initiating this planning process was a listing under section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act.

ODA now has adopted plans and rules for all 38 regions of Oregon where area plans were needed. The watershed-based plans identify measures and strategies for landowners to prevent and control water pollution resulting from agricultural activities.
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How does the AgWQM Act work?

ODA developed each watershed plan with a local advisory committee (LAC) consisting of stakeholders residing in the watershed. Each LAC was responsible for developing a draft action plan to address water quality issues arising from agricultural activities in its area. Those plans have now been adopted and many have undergone one or more biennial reviews.

Under the AgWQM area plans, local operators are asked to deal with identified problems such as soil erosion, excess nutrient loss from fields or degraded streamside areas. The AgWQM Act provides flexibility so that landowners in each watershed developed their own approaches to local problems. Farmers and ranchers are allowed to choose their own ways of meeting established water quality goals.

ODA does not want to "sit in the tractor seat" with Oregon farmers and ranchers but rather to give them an opportunity to manage their own business as long as they are following their local AgWQM area rules to help meet watershed goals and objectives. However, those who are asked to deal with a problem but continually refuse to do so could be assessed a civil penalty.
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So this means I won't be told what to do?

Yes. ODA's approach is simple: We're looking for practical solutions and we want producers to find their own way of implementing them. Technical assistance from local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and others is provided for those who need it. The bottom line is reducing agriculture's contribution to water pollution in Oregon. We think farmers and ranchers are the best at figuring out how to do that.
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What methods might I use to improve water quality?

As an example, farmers with soil erosion problems will have the responsibility for finding and implementing erosion prevention and sediment control methods that fit their farming operation. It might be planting cover crops on sloping lands. It might be conservation tillage - leaving crop residues as mulch to control erosion and runoff. It could be providing a buffer of streamside vegetation.
 
The choices are up to the operator as long as the goals set out in the overall AgWQM area rules are met. For those who need additional suggestions, most area plans include lists of best management practices appropriate for the region.
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Isn't agriculture already doing something about water quality?

Absolutely. Sound conservation practices are being employed by many farmers and ranchers to protect water quality. Rotational grazing and manure storage are methods being used by confined animal feeding operations such as dairies. Nurseries are utilizing irrigation systems that return and recycle nutrient-laden water back to the plants. Innovative cropping strategies are being employed. A vegetative filter strip acts as a buffer between grazing livestock and a stream. Alternate watering sources are being used effectively to keep animals away from streams. Straw mulch and cover crops are being used in the field between rows, slowing water runoff and reducing both erosion and loss of nutrients.
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What happens if an operator ignores the problem?

It is ODA's intent to always deal with issues by working with producers to correct problems. Education and technical assistance will be the focus of efforts by ODA and local SWCDs. There may be situations that require corrective action to be taken by operators. In those cases when a farmer refuses to take action, the law allows ODA to use civil penalties, if necessary, to get things cleaned up.
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What are the AgWQM area plans and the AgWQM area rules?

The AgWQM area plan, created by each planning area's LAC and the ODA Water Quality Specialist for that planning area, is a guide for landowners and operators to help them identify water quality issues in their watershed.

The AgWQM area rules are developed along with, and are a companion to, each individual AgWQM area plan. Each plan contains recommendations and suggestions to improve water quality and are not enforceable. Landowners and operators must comply with the AgWQM area rules. A good rule of thumb to remember is "the rules are enforceable, the plan is not."

Each local plan and the accompanying rules are different and apply only to the area for which they were developed. Find your local plan and rules to see how the AgWQMP works in your area.
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What are some benefits of the AgWQM Act?

  • It provides a mechanism for agriculture to address water quality issues in watersheds identified as water quality limited.
  • It maintains flexibility for landowners to address site specific issues to meet overall water quality goals.
  • It promotes coordinated watershed planning and avoids "one size fits all" approaches.
  • It helps landowners and others understand the cumulative effects and benefits of individual actions.
  • It provides a forum to summarize and present the actions being taken by agriculture to overcome water quality problems resulting from agricultural activities.
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Are all the area plans and area rules completed?

The ODA Natural Resources Program area’s AgWQMP has completed the 38 AgWQM area plans and area rules. Each set of area plans and area rules are reviewed and open for public comment every two years. You can easily view the history (42K pdf) of adoption and biennial reviews of all the area plans and area rules.
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How might my farm, ranch, or other agricultural activity contribute to water quality problems?

  • Sediment from eroding croplands, pastures, and streambanks can cause silt in fish habitat and clog irrigation pipes.
  • Erosion and runoff from roads can degrade water quality.
  • Pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural operations can enter waters used for drinking water, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat.
  • Bacteria and nutrient runoff from manure can pollute water used for drinking and recreation.
  • Reducing streamside vegetation can increase bank erosion, destroy wildlife habitat, and contribute to increased water temperature that harms cold-water fish, as well as the insects they eat.
  • Uncontrolled livestock access to streams can reduce streamside vegetation, erode streambanks, and pollute water from manure.

 

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