Clean water is essential for our health, and especially critical for our children. Cold, clean water is also essential to the health of our fish and shellfish. That’s why, in 1972, Congress passed the landmark Clean Water Act and set the goal of “fishable, swimmable, and drinkable” for all our nation’s waterways, declaring that “the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.”
But, throughout the country, we are far from meeting this goal–including right here in Washington. One major reason: the agriculture industry has been largely exempted from federal rules designed to achieve this goal, and our state has no permit system in place to regulate many agricultural practices.
A number of these unregulated agricultural practices send harmful pollutants into our waterways, degrading our water, destroying vital habitat and endangering our fish.
Other industries that use land–such a timber harvesting and land development–operate under regulatory requirements and permitting systems to protect our waterways.
For agriculture, however, protecting our waterways from polluted run-off is voluntary, and farmers are merely encouraged to use public funding to do pollution management practices of their own choosing.
The voluntary approach that has been tried for decades is insufficient. A recent GAO report of nationwide trends finds that "at historical funding levels and water body restoration rates, it would take longer than 1,000 years to restore all the water bodies that are now impaired by non-point source pollution."
And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “agricultural nonpoint source pollution was the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, the second largest source of impairments to wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water.”See more of our findings
Many farms use chemical pesticides, fertilizers and manure. Unlined manure lagoons at feedlots leach into groundwater aquifers, often contaminating neighboring wells. Farming to the edge of our streams causes pesticides, fertilizers, and land-applied manure to enter into our waterways, which can result in harmful impacts to:
Streamside buffers help other industries, such as timber harvesting and land development, dramatically reduce stream pollution.
Planting buffers can help the agriculture industry do its part to protect our water resources, too.
Requiring 100 feet of natural vegetation between farmland and our waterways would keep most pesticides, fertilizers, cows and manure out of our streams. Trees and other natural vegetation alongside our waterways would promote healthy habitat for salmon.Learn More About Riparian Buffers
According to opinion polls conducted among 600 Washingtonians in 2012 and again in 2014 (margin of error of plus/minus 4 percent):
THREE-QUARTERS of Washingtonians are concerned about the impact of agricultural practices on our water resources.
MOST Washingtonians believe that protecting our water resources is even more important than growing our economy. Only about a third of Washingtonians believe economic growth is more important than clean water.
THREE-QUARTERS of Washingtonians support stronger laws protecting the health of our water resources in Washington.
TWO-THIRDS of Washingtonians support 100-foot natural buffers between agriculture lands and streams.
We must ensure that our children and future generations have water that is fishable, swimmable and drinkable.