The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) last week which encourages partnerships between agricultural producers and municipal entities, such as water and wastewater utilities, to help farmers tackle various conservation and environmental issues on a regional scale. Almost $400 million will be available in the first full year to support this work, and NRCS has indicated a strong interest in working with the clean water sector to help make the RCPP a success.
The RCPP provides an excellent opportunity for interested utilities to implement innovative nutrient management solutions with agricultural non-point sources to improve local water quality. NACWA has been a longtime proponent of encouraging the movement toward watershed-based solutions to address clean water challenges and successful RCPP projects can help further these approaches. Earlier this year, NACWA lead the Healthy Waters Coalition in advocating for stronger links between agricultural policy and water quality in the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized the RCPP. This led to many provisions in the RCPP that will ensure program resources are targeted toward better nutrient management and improved water quality.
Several of NACWA’s utility members have already expressed interest in applying to this program to support the work they are doing upstream. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has been working through conservation easements to protect thousands of acres of working farmland upstream of New York to improve water quality and protect drinking water sources. The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, Wis. is pioneering a new adaptive management approach to address excessive levels of phosphorus in Wisconsin’s lakes and streams that focuses on controlling phosphorus from all sources including agriculture. Finally, Clean Water Services in Hillsboro, Oregon is working with famers in the Tualatin River Basin to enhance aquatic habitat, plan riparian buffer strips, and restore wetlands to improve water quality and watershed health. These partnerships are helping these utilities avoid massive investments in treatment technologies at the plant, saving ratepayers while improving the environment.
The RCPP promises to usher in a new era in conservation, one that can potentially benefit both farmers and ratepayers living in our urban centers – and lead to better environmental gains for everyone. NACWA is encouraging our utility members located in watersheds that can benefit from working in collaboration with agricultural producers to come forward and take advantage of the opportunity the RCPP provides. The RCPP Application for Program Funding is available here and pre-proposals are due to USDA by July 14th.
This post was authored by Hannah Mellman, who at the time, was NACWA's Manager of Legislation Affairs. Hannah has since left NACWA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrtion.