Water plans to be targeted

Oregon's planning process may change if draft bills succeed

By Michael Lancaster

Jan. 6, 2001 - SALEM - The 2001 Oregon Legislature could change the Oregon Department of Agriculture's water quality management area planning process if any of six draft bills introduced last month succeed.

At the close of his term as District 24 senator, Veral Tarno, R-Coquille, introduced draft legislation that seeks to change ODA's agricultural water quality management planning program. The management plans commonly are referred to as "1010 plans."

The legislative concepts were introduced to and approved by the Joint Interim Committee on Stream Restoration and Species Recovery at its last meeting Dec. 11, but not without some opposition. The 2001 session begins Jan. 8.

"I got involved because (the current plans are) really an imposition," Tarno said. The 1010 process " imposes all kinds of sanctions against people that to me are just totally wrong. It tells people how to operate and imposes sanctions on them that once approved are locked in as law and private property has no voice at all."

Some of Tarno's concerns echo those voiced in the Umpqua River subbasin last year as ODA tried to adopt a water quality management area plan there. Some of the Umpqua basin falls into what was Tarno's district.

Upon introduction last month, some of the draft bills met opposition from other committee members. Outgoing Rep. Terry Thompson, D-Newport, said they're "going in the wrong direction of water quality" at a time when the federal government suggests tightening water quality regulations.

But Ken Messerle, the newly elected Republican senator from Coos Bay and chairman of the Senate committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, Salmon and Water, said he sees a need for some changes.

Tarno's draft bills aim to:

n Require the person alleging a violation of the plans to post proof of ability to pay the legal expenses of the defending landowner if the complaint is found by ODA to be "frivolous."

n Reduce civil penalties for violations. The maximum civil penalty for the first violation would drop from the current $2,500 to $500. Subsequent violations would be limited to $1,000 fines, compared with the current $10,000 maximum.

Penalties could only be imposed after ODA notified the landowner of a problem, provided scientific proof of a problem, offered assistance to the landowner and determined that the landowner will continue to refuse to comply with the plan.

n Repeal the requirement that landowners subject to the agricultural water quality management area plans pay a fee to ODA. Current statute allows the agency to collect up to $200 a year from each landowner, though ODA hasn't pursued the fee to date.

n Require ODA to offer certain assistance to landowners to help them comply with the plans prior to enforcement action. In addition to contacting and working with local soil and water conservation districts, ODA would also obtain and file grant applications with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

n Require ODA to obtain permission from landowners before entering lands for inspections related to the plans, unless search warrants are obtained.

n Require ODA to develop scientific basis for concluding that conditions on land hurt water quality prior to designating lands subject to water quality management plans. "So far they've failed to show where the science is on water temperature and all water pollutants," Tarno said.

Messerle agreed that water quality plans without scientific support lead to "policies based on theories." He went a step further and suggested more data is needed for salmon recovery "to identify problems so we know if we're moving in the right direction."

Messerle also sees merit in requiring complainants to pay landowners' legal expenses if ODA finds the complaint frivolous.

"It might go too far, but I do very well see the need," he said.

Pete Test, associate director for governmental affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, said he hasn't studied the draft bills enough to evaluate and comment about them, but that the farm bureau is "willing to work with people to make 1010 work smoother and better."

Tarno said he realizes his drafts may not provide all the answers, but it at least opens the door for the Legislature to right some wrongs it made in 1993, when it first approved the plans in the form of Senate Bill 1010.

"They've got time to take a real hard look at 1010 and determine its effect on private property owners," he said. "I think primarily small farmers and ranchers are impacted tremendously."

Smaller operators "weren't even considered back in '93; 1010 was intended to support large farmers and ranchers in our state. ... It has serious consequences to it and it needs to be reviewed."

from The Capital Press

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