The Water Issue is one of the most pertinent Digger efforts to serve our membership. We hope that how we lay out the issues makes sense and provides some context of the dynamics we are facing at the state and federal levels.
Our industry stretches the water resource farther than most of those involved in policy acknowledge. Still, there is a battle over whether or not agriculture should have the water it has. There are those who wish for this limited resource to be allocated to other purposes.
This is why the Oregon Association of Nurseries puts so much effort, much of it behind the scenes, into preserving the industry’s rights to produce quality plants and trees.
Water policy is hard
The association is blessed to have some of the brightest minds in the agricultural sector helping our volunteer leaders shape policy that will impact the industry for decades to come. Many of our growers are involved in this policy space, with a full complement of past presidents, current leaders and up-and-coming stars.
Jordan Ramis PC, our law firm, brings Steve Shropshire and Marika Sitz to the table. They will forget more about water than I have the capacity to learn. Our water team is respected on both sides of the aisle. It is amongst the best and brightest in the ag, municipal and conservation worlds.
At a tour stop at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farms, organized by an agricultural coalition, I told urban and rural candidates and legislators that water is a tough and no-so-nice issue to engage in. I said that if you wish to get yelled at by everyone, just ask to be on a committee that has water as a core policy area. I was not joking.
Water impacts every facet of our state. It makes land use planning seem like a walk in the park. So why do we work so hard? In the water world, there are sharks and there are minnows. We are not going to be minnows.
There are legislators who get it. Rep. Ken Helm, a Democrat out of Beaverton, understands the complexity, economic and environmental impacts, and political toxicity that comes along with discussing water.
Rep. Helm is the exception who has broad-based water knowledge. The truth of the matter is that most legislators in our state are urban. Some seem to subscribe to the notion that water comes from a tap.
Do I blame them? Heck no. It is up to agriculture to educate decision makers. We do this through tours of nursery and greenhouse operations, multiple ag sector bus tours every other year, and simply taking the time and effort to bring urbanites along.
Issues abound, from water transfers, the ag water quality program that resides in the Oregon Department of Agriculture, to the ever increasing mission creep of the Department of Environmental Quality into ag practices, to how the Water Resources Department is funded.
All of these issues will impact how a nursery industry member does their daily work.
What keeps me up at night
Yes, decision makers are urban and don’t understand farm practices. Add to that a polarized political atmosphere that places fish over farm families.
Ag is an environmental steward. Farms have made tremendous strides to become more efficient. They have invested in technology that simply did not exist a generation ago.
The weird thing? Nursery industry members did all that work without the dark shadow of regulation hanging over our heads. We did it because it needed to be done.
In the process, we did not establish the baseline. A baseline that advocates for restricting water use — and establishing bone-crushing, non-sensible regulation — now wish to establish.
The first time a resident of a city turns on the tap and there is no water, all bets and protections for ag will go out the window. So, we must work with all sectors to prevent a water war. Drought is a definition of an age gone by. Drought compared to what? We are now in a long cycle of water scarcity. Either we adapt, or decisions get made without our consent.
The West works on a plan
I am proud of my colleagues in Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona and Texas for recognizing that in order for our collective industries to survive, we must come together to ensure that water is available for use in sufficient quantity and quality to allow for future growth in the industry.
Water in the west is different. The vast differences between our states related to climate have never been narrower. Together we must demonstrate to the U.S. Congress and our own states that nursery operators are good stewards. We take care of our respective states’ natural resources. We have made a commitment to water conservation and water quality improvement in the watersheds where we operate.
In the cacophony of shrill political discourse on climate and water, we recognize and adhere to the philosophy of reasonable engagement when working with other stakeholders and political leaders.
The shot clock is running down
At the state and federal level, decision makers lack sufficient commitment to ensure that farms, fish and families will have adequate water supplies into the future. We must be not afraid to advocate for the integration and development of new water storage with conservation incentives.
Through production, tax, and environmental goals and incentives, the nursery industry needs to be a strong voice for the use of both tools to meet both short-term and long-term water supply demands. I feel that our focus will be the difference maker. I urge you all to engage on the water issue. It is the lifeblood of the industry.
Jeff Stone, OAN Executive Director
Director’s Desk from the March 2023 issue of Digger magazine | Download PDF