When you take a drink of water in this country, chances are pretty good that it came from a reservoir or river that is managed, or that has been treated in a plant funded with support from the Federal government, or whose headwaters are on public land managed by the United States Forest Service or Department of Interior. Every dollar the federal government spends supporting water quality and quantity impacts millions of Americans. Interagency guidelines governing how investments, programs, and policies that affect water resources are evaluated at the Federal level have been updated for the first time since 1983, and published by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
Given the importance of water to USDA programs and our customers, we understand that it makes sense to have the most complete and forward-thinking information available to inform our investment and implementation decisions. That enhances our ability to develop programs and projects that conserve water resources while ensuring taxpayer dollars are well spent. USDA is confident that these new guidelines can enhance our decision-making without adversely affecting how we implement our many conservation programs. Read more »
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking at a press conference in Fairfax, VA. USDA photo by David Kosling.
USDA has a long history of helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners maintain their bottom line while improving soil health and reducing runoff into streams and rivers. For nearly 80 years, USDA has offered funding and technical assistance for farmers to implement conservation practices through the conservation title of the Farm Bill. In recent years, however, USDA has also supported new, innovative approaches to voluntary, private lands conservation.
An announcement today by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Administrator Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in northern Virginia highlights an innovative approach called water quality trading. Farmers like John Harrison of Appomattox County are taking advantage of private investments to implement conservation practices on their land. These practices help reduce erosion and nutrient runoff into local bodies of water, generating nutrient credits that can then be sold to regulated entities looking to offset nutrient losses for compliance purposes. Read more »
From left to right, Hardin County farmer Jerry McBride, AgCredit CEO Brian Ricker and Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby place the first cover crop sign in McBride’s cover crop field which contains a mix of oilseed radish, hairy vetch, and cereal rye. NRCS photo by Dianne Johnson.
As Mark Twain once said, “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” Recently, in Ohio, the staff of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), put that advice to work: rather than trying to communicate broadly, they took their message on the road, visiting with farmers face-to-face to talk about the importance of cover crops on improving water quality.
For two days this past summer, 400,000 Toledo, Ohio residents dependent on safe drinking water from Lake Erie could not use their water for drinking, bathing or washing. Toxins from algae contaminated their water, exceeding the city’s water treatment facilities capacity to remove it. Boiling the water only concentrated the toxin. No one knew how long this would last. Read more »
A water sample taken from the last wetland in a filtering system in use on a farm in Taylor County, Iowa. Wetlands and other conservation practices on agricultural land can improve water quality, and may allow producers the option of selling water quality credits in a water quality trading market. Photo Credit: NRCS
USDA has a long history of working with partners to meet the needs of America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners while striving to sustain the natural resources we rely on. American farmers produce food for the U.S. and the world, and also provide benefits for air, water and habitats through the adoption of conservation practices. In recent years, USDA has taken a more innovative approach to conservation by supporting the development of water quality trading markets.
Water quality trading can lower the costs of cleaning up waterways by allowing sources of pollutants with high costs of reducing pollution to purchase credits from others with lower costs. Often agricultural producers have relatively low costs of improving water quality, which makes farmers and ranchers prime candidates to generate water quality credits for sale. This offers the agricultural sector opportunities to improve the natural resource base and earn additional income through credit sales. Read more »
A research boat operated by Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory, takes a group of Michigan farmers to the research facility on Gibraltar Island on Lake Erie. NRCS photo.
Michigan farmers heard firsthand from experts about the water quality issues facing Lake Erie as well as the importance of conservation work to cleaning water.
A group of 40 farmers from southeast Michigan visited Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. The tour was held in late summer, not long after 500,000 people in the Toledo area were forced to spend days without public drinking water. Read more »
Ryan Witt, NRCS soil conservationist, Kelvin Burge, Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District conservation technician, and Johnny Williams, Hancock County rancher, discuss the benefits of the solar powered well. NRCS photo.
A creek in coastal Mississippi was once listed as an impaired waterway, void of a healthy aquatic ecosystem. But with the help of environmental agencies and conservation-minded farmers, the creek was removed from the “bad” list.
Orphan Creek in Hancock County, Mississippi was listed in 1998 as a Clean Water Act impaired waterway. The creek and its tributaries, including Dead Tiger Creek, form a watershed of about 25,000 acres and push their waters to the Jourdan River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality monitors water quality on Orphan Creek. Using data retrieved from 2001 and 2003 in the Mississippi Index of Stream Quality, or MISQ, Orphan Creek scored 53.2 and 51.5, respectively and failed to support its designated aquatic life use. Read more »