Oregon and the federal government have implemented policies and plans that address water quality related to agricultural production and that work to protect the public and natural environment from unnecessary pollution. These policies guide the regulatory process of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). Knowing these laws and what they regulate will help property owners to minimize their risk of committing infractions which result in penalties.

Pollution sources

When thinking about agricultural water quality and the regulations that shape the laws, property owners need to first understand the difference between point and non-point source pollution.

Point Source: Defined by the EPA as any recognizable transporting agent in which pollutants are or may be discharged; pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, etc. (section 502(14) of the Clean Water Act)

Non-point Source: Generally refers to runoff, precipitation, drainage or any source that does not meet the legal definition of “point source.” Excessive fertilizer or chemicals from agricultural land, sediment from erosion, and bacteria from livestock and pet waste are all examples of non-point source pollution. Non-point source pollution, the leading cause of water quality problems in the county, is of high interest to local, state and federal agencies. Through regulations and proactive conservation programs DEQ and ODA work to minimize the amount of pollution from all sources that leave a property.

Agriculture Water Quality Management Act

This act is also known as “Senate Bill 1010” and was passed in 1993 by the Oregon Legislature to help reduce water pollution from agricultural and rural sources throughout the state. It applies to all lands outside of urban growth boundaries with the exception of land that is covered under the Forest Practices Act. This act takes a proactive approach to conservation and is voluntary, but also law. Water quality complaints in violation of the local plan are investigated and regulated by ODA.

Marion County farmers and stake-holders have developed an Agricultural Water Quality Plan titled the “Molalla Pudding French Prairie North Santiam Sub-basins Plan”. This plan identifies strategies to reduce water pollution through education, suggested land treatments, manage-ment activities, and monitoring. The complete document can be found on ODA’s website. NEED LINK

Working in Waters and Wetlands

The Food Security Act of 1985 protects all wetlands from being harmed or removed without a permit. When working in or adjacent to a stream or wetland, there is a good chance that you may first need to acquire a permit. Placement of fill, excavation, alteration of stream banks or stream course, ditching, stump removal, and plowing or discing wetlands not previously farmed, are all activities that require a permit and are regulated by the Department of State Lands and the Army Corps of Engineers. All work done at or below the high water mark is subject to these regulations. A rule of thumb for identifying a high water mark is by a change in the type of vegetation present on the bank. You should always contact your local authorities before doing work in or near a waterway.

The Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds

The Oregon Plan is a state effort to restore salmon runs, improve water quality, and achieve healthier watersheds. It is funded through lottery dollars and salmon license plates. Implementation of the plan relies upon volunteerism and local stewardship. The state works with all stakeholders: citizens, the timber industry, conservation groups, government agencies, tribes, fishermen, and businesses to sustain salmon for the long term. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) has taken the leadership role in coordinating actions and administering a restoration grant program. In addition to helping support priority actions and volunteer-based projects, the agency has also established extensive monitoring measures to evaluate a watershed’s health and the effectiveness of the plan. If you are interested in getting involved or implementing a project contact OWEB or the Marion SWCD.

Clean Water Act

The federal Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters without a permit. It also sets water quality standards for all contaminants in surface water. Any surface water that does not meet these standards is placed on the 303d list and must be given high priority by the state and assigned Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL’s) that set thresholds for pollutants in those waters. A number of streams in Marion County are on the 303d list, including the Pudding River and Zollner Creek, for multiple reasons: temperature, bacteria, and toxin levels.