Brown Signs Bill to Help Farmers, Angers Some Environmentalists

Governor Kate Brown had said she was included to veto House Bill 2437, but reversed course Friday, signing it into law.

The bill eases rules for how farmers clear drainage ditches near their fields. Many Willamette Valley farmers work fields that are technically classified as wetlands, so the ditches are treated as intermittent streams. This has meant farmers had to get a state permit to clear out ditches, a requirement many farmers were not even aware of.

Under HB 2437, farmers don’t need a permit to clear an irrigation ditch, they can simply give notice. They wouldn’t need a permit unless they are planning to move more than 3,000 cubic yards of material over a five-year period — a 60-fold increase from the current 50-cubic-yard trigger.

The bipartisan legislation worries some environmental groups, and is seen as a victory for farmers.

“I have heard from numerous organizations that this bill goes too far,” Brown wrote in a signing letter. She also acknowledged, she’d heard from a number of groups that “the current system is completely unworkable and unused, and that is the greater risk to wetlands and wildlife habitat.”

According to OPB, Mary Anne Cooper, Vice-President of the Farm Bureau said the bill was a compromise reached by a working group of industry and environmental interests, and it was blessed by both Democrats and Republicans. Notably, the Nature Conservancy took a neutral stance.

OPB also reported that Kimberly Priestly of Water Watch, prior to hearing of Brown’s decision to sign the bill said, “It takes away a huge level of protection,” and argued Oregon laws is especially fraught at a time when the federal government is also rolling back environmental protections.

Ultimately, Brown disagreed In her signing letter, stating that the current system is unworkable. “Under this legislation we would have much more data to analyze practices and effects to inform future policymakers,” she wrote.