Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Natural Resources Assessment Section awarded water quality protection grant

Chris McGann


 Marion Drain, an irrigation ditch that releases into the
 Yakima River, is one of the waterways NRAS tests for
 water quality. An EPA grant will help expand the program. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a $200,000 grant for WSDA’s Natural Resources Assessment Section (NRAS), Wednesday. The award is part of a $2 million EPA distribution for 14 projects designed to help reduce and assess toxics affecting the Columbia River Basin watershed. 

The EPA grant funds an NRAS Pesticide Stewardship Partnership (PSP) pilot program that will collect water quality data and utilize local expertise to guide voluntary changes in pesticide use practices and ultimately improve water quality.

NRAS manager Gary Bahr said the grant helps further the important work already under way in the Columbia River Basin and around the state to monitor and improve water quality. 

The money also allows NRAS to expand its current work to the Palouse River and the Yakima River watershed where it will monitor surface water for agricultural pesticides, collect waste pesticides, and conduct targeted outreach in partnership with Conservation Districts.

“We will continue our work in the Yakima valley, where we have monitoring sites and have an active education and training program, Bahr said. “We’ll also begin new stream monitoring in the Palouse region in Eastern Washington, in partnership with the Palouse Conservation District.”

The watersheds were chosen because each is a unique agricultural production region in Washington and located upstream from critical habitat for species on the Endangered Species Act list. Sampling will look for more than 150 legacy and currently used pesticides, including DDT and its breakdown products. 

NRAS will partner with the WSDA Pesticide Management Division and Technical Services and Education Program (TSEP) for providing waste pesticide disposal collections, and pesticide education, applicator training, and sprayer calibration training. 

The Palouse Conservation District will collect the samples and work with NRAS to conduct outreach and promote pesticide applicator trainings and waste pesticide collection events.  The NRAS science group will lead the team to conduct coordinated work related to pesticide presence in the watershed and trends in pesticide usage, transport, and ways to protect water quality.

The grants are the first from the Columbia River Basin Restoration Funding Assistance Program which was established by Congress in 2016 as an addition to the Clean Water Act to reduce toxics that have long affected the health of the waters throughout the basin. 

Information about the other projects funded by the EPA grants for the Columbia River Basin watershed is available at the agency’s website

More information about NRAS and water quality monitoring in Washington State on WSDA’s website


Friday, September 11, 2020

Partnering with farmers to provide food assistance

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications 

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and Northwest Harvest are working together to support family farms and families in need through a unique collaboration that provides 10,000 boxes weekly of fresh, local produce for food pantries.

Lon Inaba holds a box of assorted farm produce.
With funding from WSDA, Northwest Harvest has coordinated with Inaba Produce Farms in Wapato, where workers have been packing boxes with an assortment of fresh produce straight from the farm. Those boxes are then distributed through the non-profit's network of food pantries and other hunger relief outlets.

Since early June, Inaba Farms has packed nearly 100,000 boxes of produce.

"This is an opportunity to make sure we help those in need by getting them fresh produce, while at the same time helping to support Washington farms," WSDA Director Derek Sandison said. 

Recently, Director Sandison joined Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest Harvest, and Carmen Méndez, the organization's agriculture procurement representative, to visit with owner Lon Inaba for a first-hand look at the produce packing operation. Local media also attended to view the operation. 

Director Sandison interviewed by KDNA radio.
Before the pandemic, an average of 1 in 6 people (about 1.15 million people) statewide received food from a WSDA Food Assistance hunger relief organizations. In Yakima County, the average had been 1 in 4.

But since the pandemic, there has been a 50 percent increase in need statewide and a 71 percent increase in Yakima County, not including data from people being served from programs outside of WSDA, such as school lunch programs or other federal assistance efforts.

At the same time, major sectors of the state food supply network were disrupted as restaurants and foreign markets shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19. This led to farmers losing many of their traditional customers.

By connecting small farms with hunger relief organizations, initiatives like the arrangement with Inaba Produce helps create a market for farmers while providing fresh produce to families in need. It is in keeping with other WSDA efforts in recent years that focus on linking farms directly to food distribution networks, like our state Farm to Food Pantry initiative and federal Farm to Food Bank program. 

Lon Inaba was only too happy to show his visitors the operation, and the line where his workers have been packing thousands of boxes weekly. On the day of the tour, the shipment of boxed produce had already left, but a few missed their ride on the truck.
Serrano chilis.

Inaba pulled one from a pallet and hefted the cardboard box to display the assortment of fresh produce packed inside potatoes, green peppers, onions and melon - all meant to feed a family in need.

Inaba Produce, a third-generation family operation established in 1907, has always been committed to sustainability and its community. It has survived three separate displacements including the Japanese Internment during WWII. These experiences have made the Inaba family intensely aware of the hardships that can befall families, especially minority communities, during times of national crisis.

Inaba Farms, like many Washington farm operations, demonstrate that it cares about feeding those in need and is playing a significant role in helping to address food insecurity in our state.

Visit WSDA's food access webpage for more information on the agency's food assistance programs.