FARMERS PROTEST WATER QUALITY PLAN

July 12, 2001 11:00 pm

GOLD BEACH Work on an agricultural water quality management area plan for Curry County turned into more of a protest by farmers Wednesday night as years of resentment against government regulation bubbled to the surface.

Members of the Curry County Senate Bill 1010 Local Advisory Committee have been charged by the Oregon Department of Agriculture to write a water quality management plan for agriculture in the county.

After a year of monthly meetings, however, some farmers were still questioning why they were meeting at all.

Emotions ran high as members critiqued paragraphs proposed by state Water Quality Planner Tim Stevenson outlining water quality issues of concern.

Stevenson said he was not married to any of the language he used, and even recommended dropping one paragraph that he thought sounded hokey when he read it out loud.

Members suggested dropping a lot of other language too.

Temperature and pH are the water quality issues of concern, said Harbor Easter lily farmer Lee Riddle, and we have nothing to do with it.

At least, lilies are not contributing anything. I dont know the other parts of the county that well.

He said high temperatures and pH balances are caused by streams running through serpentine rocks in the wilderness areas.

He said he would argue with the laws assertion that temperature and pH balance are problems, since fish have been living in those conditions as long as there have been fish in the Chetco River.

Brookings rancher Ted Fitzgerald agreed that the temperature and pH causes were natural.

Riddle said the Chetco River actually cools as it flows down to the ocean, even when it runs through areas that have been clearcut.

He objected to proposed language that said agriculture would do what it could to reduce or eliminate its contribution to the rate of heating.

We dont want to mitigate a problem that comes from nature, problems that are not a problem. I cant buy any of it.

Riddle warned he was a man with an attitude that night. He said it may sound nice that the department is allowing farmers to write their own plan, but sooner or later it will enforce a rule to protect endangered bacteria or something.

Committee Chairman Walt Schroeder said, If its already in the stream, its not our responsibility to fix it.

We cant do anything to lower temperature, said Riddle. Heck, Id like to raise it for swimming. We shouldnt be in the business of taking care of federal land, which we cant even drive on. Why should we be required to do anything?

Were not required to do anything in-stream, said Stevenson, just what goes on between our fences.

Sooner or later well have to grow redwoods or something to shade streams and wont be able to grow anything, said Riddle. We shouldnt have to do anything about Mother Nature. Fish are surviving.

We cannot fix what mother nature gives us, said Stevenson. All SB1010 is supposed to do is address what agriculture does, attempt to identify potential agricultural contributions. If it sounds nice, its because it is nice.

Earl Lang, from the Curry County Soil and Water Conservation District, said shade from trees planted in riparian areas takes away agricultural land.

We dont want to tell people to plant anything, said Stevenson.

Weve had a lot of indoctrination about it, said Riddle.

Stevenson said tree planting is not required, but asked are you inhibiting them from coming up naturally?

I root them out all the time, said Riddle. He said a single willow can fall and root repeatedly until it has taken over a lot of land.

Sixes cranberry farmer Robert McKenzie said if farmers agree they have some obligation to reduce the contribution of agriculture to temperature and pH problems, the government will someday come in and make the farmers do something.

Schroeder said, Were gun-shy because of the slippery slope. He said a tiny thing in the law can have big effects.

Land use was local once, said McKenzie, now its dictated.

Schroeder said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, talked about how the Endangered Species Act had gone beyond its original intent during his recent visit to Curry County.

Stevenson asked, Is there anything agriculture does that can contribute?

Riddle said, Isnt the idea of this getting out from under the thumb of the government? Were not here to make salmon happier.

Were here for water quality, said Stevenson.

Langlois rancher Joe Brown said agriculture makes positive contributions to water quality that could be included in the plan.

Committee outreach coordinator Linda Smith said irrigation cools water, and riparian areas in farm fields filter it.

Stevenson said, What I hear Lee saying is that we have two parameters, both natural, and there is nothing we can do about them.

Fitzgerald said he would like to leave out any language beyond that.

Stevenson joked about being in the hot seat and took most of the comments with good humor.

As far as the speculation about the government forcing the planting of 300-foot tall redwoods in lily fields, however, Stevenson said, I cant deal with scenarios.

Weve all dealt with them, said Fitzgerald.

Smith said it hasnt been that long since the government made farmers and loggers take all the large wood out of the streams because it was believed that would help salmon.

Now scientists believe just the opposite, he said.

Watershed council monitor Cindy Myers said, That was 25 to 30 years ago. Those people are gone now.

Stevenson said, Ill work this over with Lee so we dont have to go through it again.

Sea Grant Agent Jim Waldvogel said, (The state) wont buy it if youre not realistic. Be as simple and to the point as you can.

Having vented a lot of frustration, the committee members chatted amicably while enjoying Smiths marionberry pie.

McKenzie explained some of the problems faced by cranberry farmers. He said the price was once 80 cents a pound. Last year it was 12 cents and he said he will be lucky to get 10 cents this year. Worse, he said, the government will allow him to sell only 65 percent of his crop.

Stevenson said he hadnt had as much experience as the farmers had dealing with government regulation. He said he understood their frustration.

Its a lifestyle, he said, not an industry.

At the same time, he said, the committee has been meeting for a year, and is still in the early stages of developing the plan.

He said if the committee couldnt come up with a plan the Department of Agriculture could accept, it would then have to either form a new committee, or write the plan itself, which may not result in a plan as acceptable to the farmers as they one they are trying to write.