Lawmakers, DNR ask health board to halt manure rule

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OLYMPIA — The Washington State Board of Health should halt its foray into regulating manure, according to 31 state legislators.

One Democrat and 30 Republicans have sent a letter urging the board to suspend work on a “keeping animals rule.” The lawmakers said a proposal by the board’s staff was an “overreach” and could cause problems for livestock and horse owners.

Moses Lake Rep. Tom Dent said Wednesday he gathered signatures from House members after talking with farm groups about the health board’s proposal.

“Wow, it’s something else,” he said. “It’s not a good deal, and I truly don’t understand where they’re coming from.”

The board has not formally proposed a rule, but its staff circulated a draft for comment. “The board received a copy of the (lawmakers’) letter and members have had an opportunity to read the comments. The letter will be included along with the other feedback we receive on the draft rule,” a board policy adviser said in an email.

The health board has broad authority to make rules that local governments must enforce. The pre-World War II rule on keeping animals requires stables in “populous districts” to be regularly cleaned. The rule needs to be updated, according to the health board.

The updated rule would apply to waste from dogs, cats and other pets, but a staff background report on the rule focused on commercial livestock, particularly cattle.

Animal waste of all kinds would have to be immediately removed from public property, according to the staff proposal. Also, manure couldn’t be stockpiled within 100 feet of a ditch or 35 feet of a road or neighboring property.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources also submitted comments critical of the proposed rule.

Cattle grazing on public land could violate the rule against depositing manure, and horse and dog owners could be guilty if they “failed to scour the underbrush to find and collect pet waste,” wrote DNR deputy supervisor for state uplands Angus Brodie.

“DNR feels that these proposed rules do not provide enough clarity to be enforced consistently, and we are therefore opposed to their adoption,” Brodie wrote.

The rule would be a new layer of regulation, adding to manure-control rules enforced by the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington Department of Ecology.

In their letter, legislators said it was unclear whether the health board rule would conflict with existing rules. “We are concerned that this draft rule may inadvertently create a conflict of laws for commercial producers,” the letter states.

The lawmakers said they were concerned the rule would bar horsemen from riding on public trails. They also asked about whether horse owners who store manure in bunkers within 35-feet of a property line would have to move the concrete structures.

“When we started digging into the proposal, we saw real concern for people with a couple of horses and a couple of acres,” said Moses Lake Sen. Judy Warnick, who circulated the letter in the Senate.

The heath board has been working sporadically on the keeping animals rule for more than a decade.

Back Country Horsemen of Washington legislative liaison Jeff Chapman said the health board’s proposal is too broad, lumping all domesticated animals together. “We need some time to come up with something that makes sense,” he said.

House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake of Aberdeen was the lone Democrat to sign the letter.


Posted By: Capital Press

Posted On: 3/12/2020