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Posts tagged: water quality

Through Conservation, an Iowa Farmer Keeps Water Clean Downstream

David Petersen at his farm

David Petersen uses a variety of conservation practices to prevent nutrients from washing off his dairy farm into the nearby Cedar, Iowa and Mississippi Rivers. NRCS photo.

David Petersen takes extra steps to ensure his dairy in southeast Iowa does not impact water quality downstream. Through voluntary conservation work, he prevents manure from washing off the dairy into the nearby Cedar, Iowa and Mississippi rivers.

Majestic Manor, run by Peterson and his wife Amy, has been in the family for four generations. They milk about 120 Holstein dairy cows twice daily and also grow corn, alfalfa, oats, triticale and soybeans on about 320 acres. Petersen likes to refer to his operation as “closed-loop” where the soil feeds the crops, the crops feed the cattle, and the cattle feed the soil. “It is a benefit to everyone,” he says. Read more »

USDA Launches Environmental Markets Website

Environmental Markets graphic.

Environmental Markets graphic.

On April 13, 2015, the U.S. Water Prize was awarded to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) for its innovative effort to develop and establish a multi-state water quality trading program in the Ohio River Basin. Through this program, utilities are paying farmers to implement conservation practices that reduce nutrient runoff into local waterways.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), part of USDA, has been a Federal leader in supporting the development of Environmental Markets, including the groundbreaking Ohio River Basin trading program. To help our stakeholders and the public understand our interest and role in environmental markets, I’m excited to announce that today we are launching a series of new web pages dedicated to NRCS’s work in supporting the development of environmental markets. Read more »

The Mississippi River: Mending the Mighty from North to the Gulf

Brian Parkinson working with NRCS District Conservationist Joe Gates to make conservation improvements to his land

Brian Parkinson grows cereal rye and other varieties of cover crops near Milan, Ill. Parkinson works with NRCS District Conservationist Joe Gates to make conservation improvements to his land. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

The mighty Mississippi – it’s a river with a history of romance and enchantment. Native Americans depended on the Mississippi River for food and water, and world explorers came in search of its riches.

Over time, farmsteads dotted the land, and small towns grew to large cities. Today, we see the fruits of our labor as industry, commerce and agriculture continue to thrive in the basin. But those successes come with environmental challenges. Many of the basin’s waterways suffer from poor water quality. Read more »

National Network on Water Quality Trading Document Aims to Help New Program Development

The cover of the new document, “Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations”

The cover of the new document, “Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations”

USDA is committed to protecting streams, rivers and lakes through agricultural conservation, and has a long history of working with partners to implement the practices and policies needed to meet water quality goals. One of these policies, water quality trading, can help communities develop innovative, practical solutions for improving water quality, while generating environmental benefits at lower cost and increasing investment in rural America. At least twelve states have established one or more water quality trading programs—but creating the trading rules, working with stakeholders, and running a trading program can be difficult.

In 2013, The National Network on Water Quality Trading began as a dialogue between 18 organizations to tackle the challenges involved with establishing water quality markets. The Network represents a variety of perspectives, including farmers, utilities, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, and others interested in water quality trading. USDA participated in the process as a technical advisor. Read more »

Regional Conservation Partnership Program – New Partners, New Resources, New Ideas

NRCS Chief Jason Weller (far right) touring acequias in New Mexico

NRCS Chief Jason Weller (far right) completes his tour of acequias in New Mexico at the oldest continuously functioning acequia in the United States – the Acequia de Chamita, near Espanola, New Mexico – in operation since 1597. With Chief Weller are (left to right) Gilbert Borrego, NRCS New Mexico Acequia Civil Engineering Technician; Kenny Salazar, President of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts; and Bren van Dyke, First Vice President of the National Association of Conservation Districts. Photo by Rey T. Adame.

Last week, I visited with local communities in northern New Mexico. Many of these communities rely on irrigation ditches, called acequias, as their primary water source in an otherwise arid region. These are ditches that were used by their parents, and their grandparents, and their great-grand parents. Some acequias in the area date back more than 400 years.

Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), NRCS is working with acequia communities and partners across the state of New Mexico to improve water quality, water quantity, and boost the overall health of these local irrigation ditches that so many rural American communities depend on. The Acequia San Rafael del Guique, for example, provides water for roughly 150 people in the Ohkay Owengeh and El Guique communities – it’s being revitalized as part of our RCPP project in the state. Read more »

Comparing the Baltic Sea and Chesapeake Bay Provides Lessons for More Cost-Effective Policies

Ducks on a lake with sunset

USDA's Economic Research Service, and other researchers, analyzed the similarities and differences of the Chesapeake Bay and the Baltic Sea to help preserve the water quality of each.

Situated on two different continents and separated by thousands of miles, the Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast of the United States and the Baltic Sea in northern Europe face remarkably similar problems. Both are relatively shallow basins of brackish water. Both marine areas suffer from eutrophication–pollution caused by introduction of chemical nutrients. For both water bodies, agriculture is the single most important source of those nutrients, and governments have implemented policies to reduce nutrient loads and improve marine ecosystems.

Researchers at the Natural Resources Institute Finland, USDA’s Economic Research Service, and the University of Helsinki have analyzed the similarities and differences between the institutional settings and protection policies of the Chesapeake Bay and the Baltic Sea. The aim was to identify avenues for reducing the cost of meeting water quality objectives. The very different political and institutional histories of the jurisdictions within the respective watersheds provide both contrasts and similarities. The six U.S. States in the Chesapeake watershed have a common political history and operate under Federal environmental law. The Baltic watershed is made up of 14 nations whose intergovernmental relations are strongly influenced by Cold War legacies. Yet current policies in both watersheds rely heavily on voluntary approaches to control agricultural runoff. Read more »