Agricultural runoff

Agricultural runoff can pollute lakes, rivers, and marine beaches. It can also contaminate groundwater.

Landowners can prevent runoff by using best practices that keep soil and other pollution out of streams and rivers.

Our approach

Washington has more than 2,000 polluted waters listed in areas where agriculture is the primary land use activity.

We work with landowners, agricultural interest groups, and partner agencies to develop tools that reduce polluted runoff from these areas. We focus our efforts in areas where pollution problems are present.

We work to prevent this type of pollution and identify ways to improve water quality. Landowners also have responsibility under state law to prevent runoff from polluting lakes, rivers, and streams.

Water quality risks

How does agricultural land-use affect water quality?

  • Rainwater, snowmelt, and irrigation runoff carries manure, polluted sediment, bacteria, and chemicals into water.
  • Leaky manure lagoons, over-application of nitrates, nutrients, and chemicals from manure pollutes groundwater.
  • When landowners modify stream channels by ditching, dredging, or allowing animals to trample streamside vegetation, soil erodes and water temperature increases.

Our agriculture partnerships

Dryland crop farmers can enroll in the Farmed Smart Certification program through the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, which represents direct-seed producers in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Certified farms have the flexibility to choose which practices best fit their needs. 

To strengthen our commitment to the agricultural community, former Director Bellon developed the Agriculture and Water Quality Advisory Committee. The committee represents many agriculture interests and meets to discuss our work, which protects clean water and supports a healthy agriculture industry. Landowners and producers can connect with the committee through represented associations and interest groups.

Also, we established the Voluntary Clean Water Guidance for Agriculture Advisory Group to advise us on the identification and implementation of practices that support healthy farms and help farmers to meet clean water standards. The guidance resulting from this process will be a technical resource to help the agricultural community implement practices in a way that insures protection of water quality.

Throughout this effort we are reaching out to the agricultural community, tribal governments, federal, state and local agencies, environmental and public interest groups, academia, and the general public. Our goal is for an inclusive process that benefits from the knowledge and expertise of stakeholders.

What can you do to prevent pollution from reaching lakes, rivers, and streams?

  • Plant native trees and shrubs, keep livestock away from water's edges, and leave grass or native buffers between tilled fields and streams.
  • Leave stubble on tilled fields through the winter, cover manure piles, and plant a grass or native buffer between agriculture activities and streams.
  • Add liners to manure lagoons and apply manure at times plants can fully use the nutrients.

We understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving operations and protecting clean water. We are currently working to develop guidance about practices that will protect water quality. This clean water guidance will identify practices that are most effective in achieving and maintaining water quality standards.

Landowner resources

Local conservation districts help landowners identify the best programs for making improvements to their operations.
Clean Water and Livestock Operations: Assessing Risks to Water Quality outlines how our field staff evaluate streamside cover and document site conditions that we know contribute to water pollution.