Certain provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill are bringing the agriculture community and water utilities to the table to improve and protect source water.
Nutrients used for farming can wash into our source water, which impacts water utilities aiming to manage water supplies. To help address this, the 2018 Farm Bill requires that 10 percent ($4 billion over the next 10 years) of conservation funding be targeted for source water protection. This funding goes through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture.
The NRCS operates several different programs that can improve and protect source water, such as:
• Regional Conservation Partnership Program
• Conservation Stewardship Program
• Environmental Quality Incentive Program
• Agriculture Conservation Easement Program
In short, through these programs, the federal government helps pay to design and install conservation practices for farmers and ranchers to protect drinking water supplies. The programs provide opportunities for states, local communities, farmers, environmental groups, businesses and farms to cooperate to do more for the environment.
In Bloomington, Illinois, nutrients used for farming went into reservoirs, which caused algal blooms to form and threaten the water supply. The utility and the local farming community partnered with the local soil and water conservation district and NRCS to help control nutrient runoff and to apply other conservation practices.
In Kutztown, Pennsylvania, the water supply was approaching maximum safe levels for drinking water because of the nutrients used by farms in the area. This situation energized a partnership of non-profit organizations, government agencies and private organizations to ensure the safety of the city’s water supply by helping local farmers to install conservation practices that protect and improve water quality.
Getting involved with these programs can help utilities in seven different ways:
1. Determine where conservation dollars are spent, including toward source water protection
2. Foster mutual trust and understanding between water systems and farmers, encouraging construction problem solving.
3. Make progress on specific source water concerns by focusing on practices that will best address them.
4. Save on treatment costs or delay or avoid installing additional treatment.
5. Reduce risks to their water supplies.
6. Increase public confidence in both sectors.
7. Leverage every dollar they contribute (whether cash or in-kind) through NRCS and other partners.
Who knows? Maybe this is the start of a beautiful relationship.