Nutrients & Farm Bill 

Pursuing New Tools to Address Nutrient-Related Water Quality Challenges

Nutrient pollution remains a substantial challenge to the water resources of the United States. Deficiencies in the federal regulatory and policy framework, as well as the lack and inflexibility of financial resources, have constrained needed progress. These factors are driving a strong interest across nutrient management stakeholders in developing and implementing alternative nutrient management approaches.

NACWA held a Nutrient Summit in March 2017, to convene stakeholders from the clean water, agricultural, state regulator, and environmental NGO communities and explore new approaches to addressing the nutrient challenge. The Summit sought to build on the growing number of examples where the full range of nutrient sources and key stakeholders, including clean water and drinking water utilities, have successfully collaborated at a watershed scale to advance nutrient management. 

NACWA has noted a greater willingness by its membership and members of the agricultural sector to find common ground at the national, regional and local levels. Building on this momentum, NACWA seeks to scale up the collaborative approach—with the objective of making progress in the near-term while also recognizing that the scope of engagement by its partners will influence NACWA’s approach over the long-term.          

Additionally, NACWA is increasingly seeing examples of flexible interpretations and applications of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Act’s regulatory framework, which have supported improved water quality at a lower cost than the more conventional approaches that are historically used by federal and state regulators. NACWA is working to promote more productive, collaborative, and flexible approaches to nutrient management.

NACWA Advocacy Efforts Target Farm Bill Reauthorization, Six Key Outcomes

The Association has been actively engaging with Congress on the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization for nearly two years to secure provisions that address water quality at a watershed level.  NACWA’s advocacy efforts have focused on the ability to further clarify the value that clean water utilities bring to conservation programs, facilitate their involvement in watershed partnerships, and reduce the burden associated with current Farm Bill partnership programs.

As a result of these advocacy efforts, NACWA was able to secure several provisions in both the House and Senate passed versions of the 2018 Farm Bills that include a Sense of Congress which affirms the value of clean water sector collaboration with farmers to advance efficient and cost-effective clean water practices; improvements to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP); enhanced methods for measurement, evaluation, and data collection of conservation practices; a focus on the use of precision agriculture technology and conservation practices; and the prioritization of source water protection. 

With the Farm Bill now being conferenced between the House and Senate, NACWA encourages its members to reach out to their Senators and Representatives to express support for inclusion of NACWA’s priorities in a final bill to be sent to the President’s desk.

NACWA is also working to advance these issues under current statute through conversations with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Outcome 1:

Increased and more meaningful engagement by all nutrient sources with balanced accountability for nutrient management actions. Efforts include seeking to collaborate with the agricultural sector on the Farm Bill, as well as seeking to foster watershed-level opportunities for joint learning and targeted investments across nutrient sources.

Outcome 2:

Greater utilization of existing CWA flexibilities. Work focuses on greater use of existing CWA tools (such as variances, alternative limits and watershed permits), but also ensuring that criteria and permit limits are scientifically defensible.

Outcome 3:

More widespread adoption and increased scale of coverage for collaborative watershed nutrient management approaches. NACWA recently collaborated on the paper, Collaborating for Healthy Watersheds, to highlight some of the successful collaborations that already exist.

Outcome 4:

Increase the amount and flexibility of funding to better support “at scale” nutrient management efforts, direct funds to the most productive investments and address the shortfall of support for off-field agricultural investments.

Outcome 5:

Acceptance and adoption of mid-to-long-term adaptive management (or similar) model as an alternative to the current Water Quality-Based Standards (WQBS) point-source-focused approach.  Focus on evaluating the use of the Integrated Planning Framework (or similar approaches) to support a more strategic, long-term approach to nutrient management.

Outcome 6:

Enhance monitoring that provides a basis for broader nutrient source accountability and supports adaptive management as an alternative nutrient management approach.