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Wash. Group Opposes Bill To Provide More Water For Organic Crops

Wed, 01/18/2012 - 6:57am

OLYMPIA, Wash. (PRNewswire) — At a recent legislative hearing in Olympia, the Washington State Horticultural Association and its lobbyist Jim Halstrom publicly opposed legislation (House Bill 2192) that would provide a relatively small amount of new water to allow apple and tree fruit growers to grow additional acreage of organic tree fruit.

House Bill 2192 and its companion bill (Senate Bill 6028) would promote increased production of organic crops and biofuel crops along the Columbia and Snake rivers in Washington State. The bills have received enormous support with 21 co-sponsors in the House and 15 co-sponsors in the Senate.

The reason that HB 2192 and SB 6028 have received widespread support from legislators is because the bills provide some additional irrigation water to help meet the increasing need to produce more biofuel crops and organic crops as a result of the following new laws, rules and policies that have been enacted or implemented by the Washington State Legislature and various Washington State agencies over the past few years which have created significant increases in demand for biofuel crops and organic crops (in Washington State).

  • A policy supported by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) expressing broad support for organic farming to increase production and economic growth of the organic industry;
  • WSDA's Organic Certification Program, which helps farmers in Washington State to grow and sell organic products or organic foods to consumers;
  • Washington State University's Organic Farming Program, which promotes the production of economically viable organic crops to help Washington growers meet the increasing public demand for organic crops;
  • "Washington's Biofuels Initiative" - a significant law that was passed in 2006 and 2007 to increase biofuel consumption and usage in Washington State.

Additionally, many legislators like HB 2192 and SB 6028 because the bills would help to alleviate some of the competition between biofuel crops and food crops by providing the opportunity for farmers to receive a little new or additional water to irrigate dry land or new ground to grow biofuel crops. Furthermore, a considerable amount of the biofuel feedstock currently processed in Washington State is imported from other countries and other states, so many legislators strongly believe the bills would help to reduce imports of biofuel feedstock such as palm oil from critical habitats in Southeast Asia.

Given the many benefits of the proposed legislation to help increase the production of organic crops (as well as biofuel crops) and how it complements and supports "Washington's Biofuels Initiative" and Washington State's Organic Crops Programs, many organic tree fruit growers and biofuel crop growers across Washington State are very surprised by the Washington State Horticultural Association's unilateral opposition of this widely supported legislation that would allow farmers to obtain a small amount of new water from the Columbia River and the Snake River to help increase production of high-value organic tree fruit and other organic (and biofuel) crops in Washington State.

Specifically, in his testimony opposing HB 2192, lobbyist Jim Halstrom (on behalf of the Washington State Horticultural Association) indicated that "this bill provides for a special preferred status of water right and ... will lead to subsequent legislation establishing other preferred status water rights ... the provisions could effectively result in impairment of senior water rights."

According to various water resource experts, the comments by Mr. Halstrom (on behalf of WSHA) at the recent public legislative hearing contradict existing water law (RCW 90.90) and ignore the specific provisions and conditions attached to all water right permits in Washington State. In particular, water permits that are issued under the existing water law (RCW 90.90) already receive separate or preferred designations or purposes in the mitigation provisions of water rights. Furthermore, the legislation is additive and does not impair senior water rights.

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