Agriculture Seeks Out From Stormwater Bill
The county intends to put a plan into effect next year to comply with stormwater provisions of the federal Clean Water Act. A 1999 amendment to the act extended its mandate to less-populated urban areas.
Federal officials and conservationists contend rain and snowmelt runoff is a major source of pollution to streams and groundwater because it carries surface pollutants such as petroleum products, other chemicals and sediment.
Commissioner Jesse Palacios asked county staff to look at cost savings by eliminating funding that support enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. The county is proposing to address requirements for clean water and endangered species, as well as the Safe Drinking Water Act, in its stormwater program.
Similar programs are being proposed by Yakima and Union Gap. A joint public hearing by the three local governments is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 1 at the Yakima Convention Center.
Farmers and industry representatives at Monday's hearing questioned a proposal to charge all unincorporated property owners for education, monitoring and enforcement of stormwater regulations.
The proposed fees are based on the amount of impervious surface that exists on a property, such as asphalt and roof surface.
A 200-acre irrigated farm, according to county estimates, would be assessed $90 next year and up to $252 annually by 2009.
Urban homeowners would pay $18 next year and $50 per year in 2009.
Rural property owners would pay half of what would be charged in the urban area.
The county's stormwater program would grow from an initial $250,000 next year to as much as $1.8 million in 2009 to hire staff for approving stormwater protection plans and perform monitoring and education duties.
Frank Wesselius, a Naches insurance agent, said the county hasn't proven the charges and programs are necessary.
"You are reaching out and saying, 'I have a problem,' and you've not tested the water. You are trying to solve a problem that may not exist," he told commissioners. "I don't see where you are going to spend the money. I question the validity in the rural area and the need in the rural area."
Gene Jenkins of Selah, who manages private rangelands in the Wenas Valley, told commissioners agriculture should be exempt from the stormwater regulations.
Frank Hendrix, a county Cooperative Extension Service agent and a county commission candidate, said farmers don't contribute to stormwater pollution.
He said farmers may sue the county if they are required to comply.
Steve George of Yakima, who represents the hop and dairy industry on regulatory issues, called for a delay so farm groups could become better informed on the issue.
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