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Healthy Water Coalition Urges Congress To Act On Nutrient Run-Off



For Immediate Release:  March 6, 2012

Contact:  Pat Sinicropi
Director of Legislative Affairs, NACWA
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Washington, D.C.— The Healthy Waters Coalition, a diverse coalition of stakeholders representing municipal water and wastewater utilities, state regulators, agricultural and conservation sectors announced several policy recommendations icon-pdf for the Farm Bill that focus on strengthening the link between agricultural land and water quality. As the 112th Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill, the coalition urges it to significantly improve protection of the Nation’s drinking, recreational, and aquatic water supplies.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 50% of rivers, streams, and lakes and nearly 60% of bays and estuaries are impaired because of excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. For the majority of these waters, nutrient run-off from agricultural lands is the dominant source of nutrient impairment, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“As a former USDA Secretary and Governor of a large agricultural state, I understand the severity of nutrient over-enrichment in our country’s waterways,” said Ed Schafer, Former USDA Secretary and North Dakota Governor and representative of Bion Corp. “Agricultural runoff is a dominant source of these nutrients, and farmers need sustainable, economically viable technologies to reduce nutrient output.” 

“We know that excessive nutrients in our waterways are leading to some very serious human health and ecosystem consequences for our country,” said Ken Kirk, Executive Director, National Association of Clean Water Agencies. “As a representative of the municipal wastewater sector, which is one of the sources for these nutrients, NACWA knows that public agencies must also do their part to address this challenge. But our Nation cannot achieve its water quality goals unless our working lands contribute to the solution.”

The Coalition made three sets of recommendations for how Congress could strengthen the link between agricultural land and water quality and reduce nutrient runoff while supporting multiple agricultural, water quality, and ecological goals.

The first recommendation would better target conservation programs to watersheds affected by excessive nutrient run-off and tie these investments to performance standards. 

Second, the recommendations would link federal agricultural payments and premium subsidies with practices that avoid adverse water quality effects from agricultural operations. Options might include expanding compliance requirements to include nutrient reduction activities or removing disincentives to nutrient reductions from crop and revenue insurance programs.

“There is a real need for investment in agricultural conservation for water quality benefits, but we can’t stop there,” Brad Redlin, Director Agricultural Programs, Izaak Walton League of America. “Reforms tofederal farm policies that undermine water protection are needed to ensure that stewardship of soil and water resources is an obligation for receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies.”

Finally, the Coalition recommended that the Farm Bill include monitoring and evaluation tools and incentives to help farmers gather real-time data on nutrient abatement effectiveness. In addition, incentives should be created for increased collaboration between state and federal water quality monitoring programs.

With these recommendations, the Coaltion believes that agricultural resources can be better leveraged to reduce nutrient runoff while providing additional important benefits related to food security, biodiversity, and habitat and wildlife preservation.

The Healthy Waters Coalition’s full recommendations icon-pdf can be found on the website of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.

The following quotes summarize statements from additional speakers at the Healthy Waters Coalition event at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on March 6, 2012.

Though Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, could not attend the event, a statement by her was read at the press conference:

“Conservation programs play a critical role in the health of our Nation’s waters, and must be strengthened to ensure both a safe drinking supply as well as clean water for our farmers and producers to continue growing safe and healthy food, feed, fuel, and fiber. I look forward to working with all of you here to make sure we have a strong Farm Bill with a conservation title that ensures adequate protections and the tools to keep our promise to Americans everywhere—a promise of pristine waters and natural resources and a robust, job-creating agriculture sector.”

Diane VanDe Hei, Executive Director, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies:

“Strengthening the Farm Bill’s conservation programs will not only benefit farmers who manage their working lands with care, but it will help downstream water utilities currently faced with removing excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution at their ratepayers’ expense.  While the nation’s drinking water systems act vigilantly to remove these contaminants from their finished water, the most effective solution is to keep excessive nutrients out of source water in the first place.”

Kevin Shafer, Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District:

“The Clean Water Act was the first step towards helping this Country clean up our watersheds. Now we must go beyond the Act and work with many non-traditional partners, such as farmers, to take the next leap forward in improving water quality.”

Ron Kreider, CEO, Kreider Farms, Manheim, Pennsylvania:

“We simply must maintain the water quality, soil capacity, and surrounding infrastructure so future generations will be able to continue being a part of the economic landscape in our community. I am aware that our operations could add to the enormity of the challenge of managing the nutrient loadings in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  And I feel strongly that I must do my part to preserve and protect the quality of the water that is so important to my community.”

Steve Hershner, Utilities Environmental Manager, City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

“All Iowans contribute to our state’s water quality challenges in some form or another, and all of us have a shared responsibility in contributing towards developing and implementing alternatives that will improve our state’s and nation’s water quality.”

Ben Grumbles, President, Clean Water America Alliance:

“Today would be super for America's waters and working lands if policymakers decide on this day to use the Farm Bill to its full potential to green and grow our economy, conserve our natural assets, and target excess nutrient pollution with integrated strategies and tools. A strong Conservation Title means cleaner water, healthier communities, and more sustainable partnerships upstream and downstream, coast to coast.”

Scott Faber, Vice President for Government Affairs at Environmental Working Group:

"Farmers can produce far more than food and fiber—they can also contribute to cleaner water. Renewal of food and farm policy provides two critical opportunities to protect our drinking water supplies: one, to renew the conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers that provides farmers with a safety net in exchange for steps to reduce polluted runoff; and two, to strengthen programs that share the cost of additional practices that keep our water clean."

Jeff Eger, Executive Director, Water Environment Federation:

“The Water Environment Federation and our 36,000 members understand that clean water is everyone’s responsibility. Forty years after passage of the Clean Water Act, water quality continues to be impaired from a variety of sources, including agriculture. It is vitally important that we improve the effectiveness of the USDA conservation programs so that these investments can be targeted to key watersheds and help address the biggest sources of pollution. The American people support investing in water quality programs because they know that clean water is worth it.”

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, Esq., Executive Director & General Counsel, Association of Clean Water Administrators:

“As the pressure continues to build on states to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus impairments in our Nation’s waters, nothing could be more important than connecting our Farm Bill programs with water quality. Thoughtful innovations to Farm Bill programs will yield a multitude of water quality improvements that will benefit all Americans.”

Jim Taft, Executive Director, Association of State Drinking Water Administrators:

“We appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on this important national conversation and to suggest that critical investments in conservation practices through the Farm Bill need to continue and be built upon.”


The Health Waters Coalition is composed of  a diverse group of municipal water and wastewater authorities, state drinking water and pollution control administrators, sustainable agriculture and conservation organizations that are working together to urge Congress to strengthen the link between water quality and agricultural practices.

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