Officials issue cautionary advice as irrigation season is now underway

Water is set on a wheat field along Morgan Avenue as the irrigation season was getting underway in this photo from April 18, 2018. 

ONTARIO — The Oregon Farm Bureau and other agricultural interests are sounding an alarm on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s draft 2018-20 integrated report on the status of water quality for water bodies in the state, saying the agency is listing some waterways with little or no data and urging farmers and ranchers to make known their opposition to the DEQ’s report before the January deadlines.

The state is required by the federal Clean Water Act to report on the status of the quality of surface water within its borders every two years, listing those water bodies which are impaired or on the 303d list.

That listing has been around for a number of years as the Snake, Malheur and Owyhee rivers are listed as water quality impaired. In addition, the Snake and Malheur rivers are under water quality improvement plans throughout total maximum daily loads, which limits the amounts of specific pollutants.

The DEQ is taking comments on its draft report for 2018-20 and according to a report from the Farm Bureau, the agency is planning to add hundreds of miles of additional waterways on agriculture and forest lands as being impaired without any data to support those listings.

Mary Anne Cooper, with the Oregon Farm Bureau, shared that information during a recent dinner meeting of the Malheur County Farm Bureau.

Under its plan, the DEQ want to list “almost every ditch in the state” as water quality impaired, Cooper said.

The threat is that with additional requirements, the DEQ can impose new restrictions on farmland and farming practices, she explained.

Farmers and ranchers are being asked to write comments to the DEQ and voice their opposition to any additional listings that do not have data to support them.

Jay Chamberlin, manager of the Owyhee Irrigation District, has also expressed concern over the proposed listings saying they could impact irrigation systems and operations by imposing more regulations.

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