Nutrient runoff is the greatest water quality challenge facing the United States today. According to State water quality reports, 80,000 miles of rivers and streams, 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, 78% of the assessed continental U.S. coastal areas and more than 30% of estuaries are impaired due to excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrients). For the majority of these waters, nutrient run-off from agricultural lands is the dominant source of the nutrient impairments. Over this next decade, the critical challenge facing efforts to restore and maintain clean and safe water is reducing excessive amounts of nutrients in our waterways.
This week, Members of the House and Senate will begin long-awaited negotiations to authorize a new five-year Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is our nation’s biggest environmental initiative for private working lands, and the perfect opportunity to establish policies that more effectively reduce agricultural nutrient run-off and improve water quality throughout the U.S.
NACWA has been working to include provisions in the bill that offer additional and more targeted tools to help agricultural producers undertake effective nutrient management activities in critical watersheds. The provisions include encouraging partnerships between agricultural producers and municipal wastewater utilities to help farmers manage nutrients more effectively, provide stable five-year funding for nutrient management practices, prioritize nutrient management activities in critical watersheds, and prioritize conservation investments that result in overall water quality gains. Collectively, these provisions provide important steps forward in conservation and water quality policy.
Let’s not waste this opportunity to establish policies in the Farm Bill to more effectively reduce agricultural nutrient run-off. Improving water quality and ecosystem health in critical watersheds like the Mississippi River Basin-Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and Great Lakes will depend on them.