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Water Quality

The federal government and the state of Oregon 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.

Federal Plans and Policies

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.

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.

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.

Oregon Policies, Plans, and Programs

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.

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, management activities, and monitoring. The complete document can be found on ODA’s website HERE.

Ag Water Quality Management Area Plan

The Agricultural Water Quality Management (AgWQM) Area Plan, came out of the Agricultural Water Quality Management Act. Our local area plan for the Molalla-Pudding-French Prairie-North Santiam Subbasins was approved in January of 2002, and provides guidance for addressing agricultural water quality issues. View the plan online or contact the Marion SWCD office for a paper copy.

The Pudding basin is one of the most intensely farmed agricultural sub-basins in the Willamette Valley. In 2002, Marion County, the Pudding River Watershed Council and the Marion SWCD began a Water Quality Monitoring program in the Pudding River watershed to establish baseline water quality conditions. This program provided a means for residents to learn about their watershed, volunteers to collect data and stakeholders to have tools for future decision-making and restoration efforts. This information folded into the Water Quality chapter of the Pudding River Watershed Assessment that was completed in 2006. Because the information was collected, graded, and submitted to the DEQ’s water monitoring database, it was also used in the 2008 Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) allocations in the Molalla/Pudding basin by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The plan identifies strategies to reduce water pollution from agricultural lands through a combination of education programs, land treatments, management activities, and monitoring. The plan relies on the agricultural community finding proactive, voluntary ways to limit the effects of their operations on local waterways.

The plan applies to agricultural and rural lands outside Urban Growth Boundaries. It does not cover private or public forests managed under the Forest Practices Act. The plan was written by a group of stakeholders, the Local Advisory Committee, with the help of the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District and Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). The Local Advisory Committee meets periodically to discuss progress implementing the local Agricultural Water Quality Management Area Plan.

The Marion SWCD is a Local Management Agency for our local Area Plan, which means we provide educational and technical services to help meet the goals of the plan. We promote practices that have been well researched and are known to be effective in reducing erosion and polluted runoff when installed correctly. Many of the practices we recommend come from the growers themselves; other recommended practices have been developed by NRCS or OSU Extension Service.

Small improvements in management can reduce a farm’s overall contribution to non-point source pollution, while helping growers meet their goals. Marion SWCD’s grant programs can help farmers adopt practices that minimize erosion and run-off. Marion SWCD’s conservation planners provide free farm and field audits to help landowners determine if any resource concerns should be addressed. They can also evaluate landscape conditions and operations to ensure they support clean water and healthy watersheds. For example, if a landowners has a stream or wetland, does it have adequate vegetation to provide shade, filtration and work to slow runoff velocity?

While ODA is the regulatory authority tasked with enforcing minimum compliance with ag water quality rules under a complaint-driven process, working with the SWCD is completely voluntary. The Marion SWCD has no regulatory authority. By starting a voluntary conservation plan, landowners can better manage their land and receive guidance for staying in compliance with the rules that govern natural resources.

Pesticide Stewardship Program

The Pudding Pesticide Stewardship Partnership (PSP), is one of many PSPs formed and promoted by the Oregon DEQ as a way for local communities to voluntarily support their watershed and industry by identifying and voluntarily reducing chemical impacts to streams to meet water quality criteria and avoid additional agency regulatory actions. The Pudding PSP is a cooperative effort of Marion SWCD, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), OSU Extension Service, Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), and agricultural businesses and producers.

Since the Pesticide Stewardship Program began in 1999, significant progress has been made in identifying and improving water quality associated with pesticide use at a local level. Oregon DEQ has been sharing pesticide sampling data in the Pudding basin since 2005. The data shows steady reductions in detections or levels for pesticides such as Chlorpyrifos and Guthion (azinphos-methyl).

The Pudding Pesticide Stewardship Program holds educational forums and Agricultural Waste Collection Events. The Waste Collection Events accept “legacy” pesticides such as DDT and Chlordane as well as excess or otherwise unusable restricted-use pesticides. So far, over 100,000 pounds of pesticides have been collected from over 200 participants.

Learn the basics of water quality.

Contact Us

Our Ag planners can help you with your water quality questions.

Becky and her family at fair with sheep.
Becky Pineda
Agriculture Conservation Planner - Pasture & Livestock
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