Engaging with Partners in Developing Voluntary Clean Water Guidance for Agriculture

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In our work with agricultural landowners, many have asked us for guidance about management practices that protect water quality.

To meet this need, we are partnering with stakeholders to develop voluntary clean water guidance for agriculture. The guidance will identify practices that are most effective in achieving and maintaining water quality standards.

Our first step is to work collaboratively to design a process that will result in robust, scientifically based guidance that supports healthy farms and clean water. Work on the actual guidance will start in 2017.

Throughout this effort we are reaching out to the agricultural community, tribal governments, federal, state and local agencies, environmental and public interest groups, and the general public.

Completing the guidance is an important part of our Nonpoint Source Management Plan, which addresses pollution coming from a wide variety of sources such as city streets, forest lands and farms. Finding and eliminating nonpoint sources of pollution is our greatest challenge to restore the health of Washington’s waters.

We're seeking feedback on the proposed process

Provide feedback on the proposed process

Comment period: January 24-February 24, 2017

The proposed process is the result of months of outreach and discussions with stakeholders and tribes. Based on the feedback we received, our goal is to have a collaborative, transparent, and efficient process that keeps our stakeholders involved as decisions are made.

To make sure that we are able to develop the guidance in a collaborative environment, we are proposing to convene an advisory group with a balanced mix of participants that represent diverse perspectives.

Once formed, the advisory group will help compile a list of management practices to include in the guidance. Any practice with documented effectiveness to improve water quality will be included in the list.

For each practice, the guidance will provide information on effectiveness in reducing pollutants, as well as implementation considerations, such as capital cost to implement a practice, operation and maintenance requirements and costs, barriers to implementation, etc.

To accomplish the work, advisory group members will serve on one of two workgroups:

Our goal is for an inclusive process that benefits from the expertise of stakeholders.

Read our proposed process

2016 stakeholder involvement

In 2016 we reached out to stakeholders and tribes to get their perspectives on how we should approach developing clean water guidance for agriculture. We used this feedback to design our proposed process.  Feedback came in several ways:

We contracted with Ross Strategic to support our stakeholder involvement. Ross Strategic helped us develop the questionnaire, conduct interviews with other states on their approaches, and provided a summary and recommendations on the proposed process.

Read the Ross Strategic findings report

Timeline

Voluntary Clean Water Guidance for Agriculture development timeline

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ecology planning on mandating best management practices (BMPs)?

No, we will not develop mandatory BMPs. We are currently seeking input on how to design a process that will ultimately be used to evaluate the effectiveness of management practices, and identify practices or combinations of practices that support compliance with the water quality standards. In the next step, when the process is implemented and practices are evaluated, practices that are identified as effective will provide technical guidance that producers and farmers can voluntarily choose to implement.

The BMPs will not have any independent regulatory authority and they will not establish new environmental regulatory requirements.

How will Ecology use the guidance once it is completed?

Once completed, we will update our funding guidelines to be consistent with and support the implementation of the practices contained in the new guidance. The guidance will allow us to maintain federal grants that are passed through to producers to make on-the-ground improvements. We provide over $1.5 million annually in pass through grants to landowners.

The BMP guidance can also be used by the public and producers who want to have certainty that they are meeting water quality standards. Finally, the end product will provide technical guidance that can be used to inform the implementation of other parts of our nonpoint water quality program such as watershed clean-up plans, efforts to protect shellfish beds, and salmon recovery efforts.

Some producers are concerned that the guidance will result in one-size-fits-all BMPs. How will Ecology make sure that producers have options and flexibility in implementing practices that address pollution problems?

Ecology doesn't believe that one-size fits all. We want to make sure that any guidance that is developed is reasonable to apply and will provide a range of options to protect water quality. The BMP guidance will be designed to provide flexibility and, to the extent possible, recognize site-specific factors. Furthermore, the BMP guidance that we develop is not the only way to properly manage nonpoint source pollution. Producers may choose alternative methods that can provide equal protection of water quality.

How can I get more information?

For more information on this project please contact Ben Rau at ben.rau@ecy.wa.gov or (360) 407-6551.

Last updated January 2017