Natural Resources Division

Manager: Dan Berentson

Skagit County Voluntary Stewardship Program

On December 19, 2011, Skagit County enrolled in the State's Voluntary Stewardship Program (the VSP) for protection of critical areas in areas of agricultural activity. Statewide, 28 counties are now enrolled.

The VSP legislation, codified at RCW 36.70A.700-760, enables an enrolled county to protect and restore riparian streams and other critical areas on agricultural land through new voluntary programs and coordination of existing programs, instead of new regulation. It provides focus and direction for agricultural stewardship, measurable goals and benchmarks, and relies on local watershed groups to develop work plans for implementation.

Skagit County VSP Work Plan Approved

VSP Watershed Group Documents
After waiting for state funding since 2011, the Board of County Commissioners appointed a watershed group in 2014 to help develop a work plan for the VSP. The County expects to complete the work plan and submit it for state review before the end of 2016.

VSP Startup Documents

The Board of County Commissioners adopted resolutions that declare that the County has sufficient funding to begin coordinating the Voluntary Stewardship Program, establishes the Watershed Group and appoints the Watershed Group.

Where do we go from here?

The legislation provides deadlines and schedules for implementation of the program.


  Statutory Deadline Item

a January 22, 2012 Enroll in Voluntary Stewardship Program
a before adopting resolution starting VSP program County solicits comments from interested stakeholders
a before designating group County solicits letters of interest for local Watershed Group
a w/n 60 days of receipt of funding County designates Watershed Group
a as necessary to obtain approval w/n 3 years of receipt of funding Watershed Group meets to develop work plan
a ASAP in order to obtain approval w/n 3 years of receipt of funding County submits work plan to State Conservation Commission
a w/n 45 days of receipt by SCC State Technical Panel reviews work plan
a w/n 3 years of receipt of funding Receive work plan approval from Conservation Commission

Skagit County has pledged to work more quickly than the required schedule envisions to accomplish resource protection more quickly.

How is the program funded?

The goals of the voluntary stewardship program assume that there will be funding for technical assistance, operation of local watershed groups, incentive funds for implementing voluntary stewardship measures, and enforcement of existing regulations. Participants in the statewide Ruckelshaus Center process that led to the agreement to support the VSP consider an unfunded program agreement to be tantamount to a non-agreement. Given the economic climate, the quest for funding to make the program successful will be a significant challenge for all parties and implementing agencies.

How is the state involved in the VSP?

The Washington State Conservation Commission will provide administrative oversight through a statewide advisory committee composed of representatives from counties, tribes, agriculture, and environmental organizations.

What happens if the VSP doesn't protect streams and other critical areas?

Checkpoints are built into the program to ensure that protection of critical areas is achieved. Stewardship programs will be evaluated at 3, 5, and 10 years, and counties will be required to proceed with additional actions if benchmarks to protect critical areas are not achieved in local watersheds through voluntary efforts. Potential consequences and actions for counties in this situation include review and possible amendments to critical areas ordinances, or the county may choose to adopt an alternative plan for protecting critical areas subject to state agency approval.

Do farmers still have to comply with regulations?

Yes. The County's Critical Areas Ordinance is still in effect, including the special buffer exemptions for ongoing agriculture and the mandatory Watercourse Protection Measures. Farmers also have to be careful to comply with state water pollution control laws (RCW 90.48). Learn more from the following resources:


Enforcement of state and federal water quality regulations by the Department of Ecology is considered an integral part of the VSP.

What about the Clean Samish Initiative?

Skagit County is committed to efficient use of our limited financial resources. Over the long term, Skagit County intends to integrate the countywide VSP with the Clean Samish Initiative and other water pollution and habitat protection programs.

What's the difference between the VSP and the NRSP?

Skagit County's Natural Resource Stewardship Program is an existing, four-year, grant-funded effort to help landowners enhance streamside habitat through voluntary easements, plantings, and livestock fencing. NRSP is an example of the kind of voluntary programs that will likely be integrated into the County's VSP (likely with a less confusingly-similar name).

For More Information

Michael See
Water Resources Section Manager
Skagit County Public Works
360-419-3421
michaels@co.skagit.wa.us

Photo by Pfly, CC BY-SA

WATERSHED GROUP AGENDAS

2017

6/26

2016

3/24
6/16
10/27

2015

10/22
8/27
6/18
5/28
4/23
3/26
2/26
1/22