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.

At the same time, as outlined in more detail below, NACWA played a leading role in securing legislative language in the 2018 Farm Bill that will help public clean water utilities better engage upstream with agricultural partners to achieve meaningful water quality improvements through a holistic, watershed approach.

Background

NACWA held a Nutrient Summitin 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 Priorities Included in the 2018 Farm Bill Reauthorization

The Association and its Farm Bill working Group actively engaged with Congress on the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization for nearly two years to secure key bipartisan provisions to better help address water quality and non-point source nutrient loading issues at a watershed level through holistic, collaborative, and innovative approaches.

As a result, the final 2018 Farm Bill passed into law with several key NACWA priorities included that will help public clean water utilities better meet their growing water quality challenges and obligations more cost-effectively. 

The provisions 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 and increased flexibilities to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP); enhanced measurement, evaluation, and data collection of conservation practices; a focus on the use of precision agriculture technology; and the prioritization of source water protection. 

NACWA is now working with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on implementing these provisions in a timely manner so public clean water utilities and farmers can enhance their partnerships in addressing water quality issues.