Core areas, non-point source pollution featured in water discussionWritten by Heather Hamilton
Casper – The Clean Water Restoration Act, sage grouse concerns and EPA regulations were all targeted at the water committee meeting held during the Wyoming Stock Growers and Wyoming Wool Growers Joint Winter Convention.
Maggie Beal with Senator Barrasso’s office explained that the Democratic Party is attempting to redefine federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Beal stated that while Wyoming opposes the bill and it’s not expected to get a majority vote, it is “gaining some traction on the Senate side.”
She went on to say that Senators Barrasso and Enzi, in conjunction with several other western senators, sent a letter to Harry Reed and Nancy Pelosi stating, “we won’t support anything if the Clean Water Restoration Act is attached to it.” Hope is the united voice of these western senators will further reduce the chance of the bill passing.
Beal went on to explain a letter was also sent to the Department of the Interior asking for reason in managing of the Big Horn River and, more specifically, the Yellow-Tail Dam after it experienced an operational malfunction this year. The malfunction resulted in increased tension between Wyoming and Montana. To date there has been no response to the letter, which Beal felt was positive.
Another big issue facing agriculture’s water usage is the sage grouse. There is a court remanded petition before U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to list the sage grouse by February 2010. Should the bird be listed it will have far-reaching consequences that will affect a number of industries, and agriculture is no exception.
Harry LaBonde of the State Engineer’s Office said, “The goal is to keep the bird from being listed.” Future proposed water improvements won’t be developed, he said, “if it will result in a decline in sage grouse populations in a core area.” Core population areas cover approximately 23 percent of Wyoming’s landmass.
Starting Jan. 10, 2010 a new set of requirements will be enforced when applying for a water development facility. According to LaBonde, “With every new application for water development we require you now show a map with point of diversion and the effect on the land. Upon a permit being accepted your location of water development will be compared to a map of bird core populations.”
If your proposed water development overlaps with a core population area, you will receive a letter explaining the situation and be asked to choose between five options. They are:
1. Relocate the facility outside of the Core Population Area.
2. Provide a biological assessment for your proposed project demonstrating that full development of the project will not cause a decline in the sage grouse populations.
3. Agree to a special set of permit conditions and limitations designed to mitigate impacts to sage grouse.
a. No facilities or construction activities allowed within 0.6 miles of an occupied lek.
b. No construction activity in Core Population Areas during the March 15 to June 13 time frame.
4. Provide evidence that the project area is situated within an area that has been previously disturbed and is no longer critical habitat for sage grouse.
5. For small facilities that generate limited operation and maintenance activities and are intended to support existing land uses (stock reservoir or well), the permit may be issued with conditions.
LaBonde added, “We aren’t opposed to working with landowners if one of these five options won’t work for you.”
A positive note to submitting what could be a more in depth permit is that the State Engineers Office E-Permit system should be up and running by the end of January. This system would allow a permit to be submitted via email. If a permit were accepted it would be filed in a database and payment would be made with a credit card.
EPA Regulatory Requirements are also expected to become more in depth in the upcoming months. As Brian Lovett, inspection/compliance program supervisor with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, explained, “Very few feedlots are in compliance with their EPA permits. You need to be up to date on your run-off management and nutrient management plans.” Inspections are getting more detailed with increased consequences if a feedlot isn’t in compliance.
It has been proposed to regulate all feedlots, even those under the 1,000-head capacity. If this goes into effect it will encompass almost all confined feeding operations in the state and require them to be in compliance with EPA requirements to the same extent as larger feedlots.
The NRCS is expected to take more of a regulatory role in some instances as it coordinates with the EPA in designing the new nutrient management plan. NRCS Watershed Coordinator Nephi Cole explained that agriculture is currently blamed for 60 percent of non-point source pollution.
Cole went on, saying, “Current law doesn’t say you can’t pollute, just that you implement best management practices in good faith. That’s what you need to do to protect yourself today.”
But this may change with programs like the Chesapeake Bay Initiative. This initiative would focus on cleaning up United State’s water. With agriculture being blamed for over half the problem, it is likely ag will also be targeted in a potential solution.