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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico 3 Getting Started: A Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative (NCII) This chapter discusses and presents a recommendation for a “Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative” (NCII) that could improve knowledge of best management practices, their implications for more effective nutrient control, and how they affect both local and downstream water quality. In doing so, it addresses question 1 in this committee’s statement of task that asks for advice on initiating a pollutant control program. PILOT PROJECTS AND AN ADAPTIVE, ACTION-ORIENTED APPROACH TO THE HYPOXIA PROBLEM The targeting of specific watersheds for priority nutrient control actions can be approached in different ways. One approach could be to identify high priority watersheds within the Mississippi River basin, apply cost-effective best management agricultural and conservation practices to those watersheds, measure effects of those practices on nutrients loads, and adjust practices as necessary to satisfy a given nutrient reduction goal. Priority actions in the watersheds could be assigned using several criteria, such as the relative magnitudes of nutrient loads exported to receiving streams and estimated fractions of those loads that reach the gulf (this type of information is provided in the SPARROW model results; see Alexander et al., 2008). Another strategy, and the one implied by language in the Clean Water Act, is to establish a goal of a specified reduction of nutrient loads at the gulf, then divide load allocation responsibilities among contributing watersheds. A nutrient control management plan within a given watershed then would be designed to satisfy that portion of the basinwide goal allocated to that watershed (criteria and methods for allocating load reductions are discussed in Chapter 4). Either of these approaches could be initiated in the near future based on existing management programs, current information on nutrient loads within the Mississippi River basin, cost-effective management practices, and watershed-to-gulf delivery coefficients. Initial steps toward load reductions could be taken and supported by existing funding and existing scientific information. Ideally
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico (and as recommended in this report), those actions would be supported and informed by an evaluative pilot project program aimed at improving scientific understanding of nutrient inputs and nutrient control actions, and their downstream impacts. Regardless of the general approach taken to reduce nutrient loadings, the information and experience gained through the Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative projects recommended in this chapter will be important to initial implementation decisions and subsequent adjustments. The coordinated network of the NCII pilot projects would represent a systematic approach to better understanding and managing nutrient inputs across the basin, and evaluating their potential local benefits and downstream impacts. The scope of the NCII described in this chapter would cover only a small portion of the river basin and, in and of itself, would not lead to substantial reductions in the areal extent of the hypoxic zone. Instead, the NCII program would represent a special, science-based initiative to provide input to guide and adapt larger nutrient control efforts—perhaps ultimately even a basinwide TMDL. This chapter presents the NCII program as an evaluative effort that will help inform larger nutrient allocation efforts for the river basin (and that are discussed in Chapter 4). NCII RATIONALE AND GOALS A network of nutrient control pilot projects for the river basin offers an opportunity to learn more about the relative effectiveness of various nutrient control actions with regard to water quality improvements (both locally and, over time, farther downstream), institutional viability, and social and economic benefits. Such a network would provide opportunities to strengthen interagency, interstate, and state and local coordination and cooperation in nutrient control actions and water quality monitoring and evaluation. Over time, additional pilot projects could be added to extend the network of projects and improve knowledge of land management practices (or “best management practices”) across the river basin. The pilot projects would be long-term capital investments, rather than short-term trials, and would represent initial steps toward a larger, basinwide network of land management practices aimed at protecting water quality in the Mississippi River and northern Gulf of Mexico. Because of the importance of targeting limited financial resources to areas of higher nutrient loadings, initial NCII project sites should be in areas that have the highest probability of showing results. There is also a need for an initiative to help coordinate and synthesize “agricultural and conservation intelligence.” Farmers across the river basin are involved in many creative, innovative nutrient management efforts that represent an important source of experience and knowledge. There are many land grant and other universities across the river basin with numerous experts in soil science, agricultural engineering, agronomy, economics, and other fields with
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico extensive knowledge of agricultural and best management practices, water quality modeling and management, and related topics. There is also a large network of county extension agents and other soil and water conservation experts in the basin’s rural areas. A limitation of this knowledge base, however, is that outcomes of the many nutrient control and related conservation efforts are not systematically monitored or formally evaluated and compared across the river basin (Schempf and Cox, 2006; Cox, 2008). The nature of the hypoxia problem suggests the need for priority actions, interim goals that can be adjusted with time, and a process that promotes learning and better management decisions as new information is gained. These program elements are captured within the rubric of adaptive management. The NCII projects will contribute to an adaptive approach to learning more about effective approaches for controlling nutrients on agricultural land in the Mississippi River basin. Several scientific bodies and experts, including the watershed nutrient task force and the EPA SAB Hypoxia Advisory Panel (both described in Box 1-1) support an adaptive management approach in addressing the challenges of better nutrient pollution control and reducing the extent of the hypoxic zone (see also Freedman et al., 2008). The NCII initiative and its individual projects are envisioned as a special evaluative component of larger nutrient load reduction efforts across the river basin. Ideally, the NCII will strengthen research in nutrient control and best management practices, and result in local water quality improvements. The NCII is only one aspect of all basinwide efforts devoted to reduce nutrient loadings. Implementation of other research efforts or best management practices across the basin thus need not await NCII development and implementation. A stronger commitment to performance-based, farm-level conservation actions and water quality monitoring will be necessary to reduce the extent of northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxia. Most current nutrient control efforts, which are made possible by USDA land and water conservation programs that promote use of best management practices (BMPs), are not closely monitored, if at all. Further, a basinwide system for implementing conservation and water quality practices, monitoring the results of those practices, comparing results from across different geographic regions, and applying those results to subsequent conservation efforts will be necessary. These “results” will include a wide range of outcomes, including cost effectiveness, changes in nutrient yields and water quality, and acceptability among the parties involved (e.g., farmers and relevant federal and state agencies). The NCII projects will provide a vehicle for getting started on systematically implementing and testing best management practices at the scale needed to improve water quality with respect to nutrients in the Mississippi River basin.
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico COMPONENTS AND SCOPE OF NCII PROJECTS A primary goal of the Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative projects would be to evaluate effectiveness of land and water management practices to meet various performance goals. The NCII projects will be useful in identifying the level of water quality improvements feasible for agricultural watersheds having different characteristics. To help keep pilot projects focused on outcomes and to explore the limits of ultimate achievements, the pilot projects will include interim goals that are periodically gauged and adjusted. To help better understand the potential benefits of these projects, some portion of the NCII effort could be devoted to exploring the maximum benefits that a given project(s) might achieve. The NCII projects would have the following components: Pre-project planning and design; Capital facility installation; Operation and maintenance; Water quality and land use monitoring. Examples of the types of practices that would be implemented and tested include: erosion and sediment control; crop scheduling and nutrient management; manure storage and application management; vegetative buffers; control of confined animal feeding operations; runoff interception; constructed wetlands, and; other already established best management practices for nutrients and improving nutrient efficiency (see, for example, PADEP, 2008). These projects would be conducted on agricultural watersheds encompassing areas sufficient to allow evaluation of land management and water quality protection practices at large scale. An area of approximately 25,000 acres is envisioned as an upper bound to the size of the individual NCII pilot projects. There may be smaller or larger projects depending on economic, administrative, and other specific conditions at a given NCII project site. There is ample precedent for conducting demonstration and evaluation projects at this scale, including several ongoing water quality and conservation projects that could be recruited into the NCII program. To the extent possible, application sites will coincide with watershed boundaries such that they will have “outlets” amenable to water quality monitoring. This is an important consideration, as it often is difficult to capture all nutrient fluxes and other impacts in a watershed when evaluating the effectiveness of best management practices. To help realize the potential value of the NCII program, it will be important to design its pilot projects as long-term efforts. The NCII and its projects are not envisioned as short-term efforts to be terminated after one or two years. On the contrary, initial projects should be viewed as long-term endeavors that represent the start of basinwide implementation and that will serve as nuclei for the extension of additional projects to other watersheds across the river basin. Ultimately, a systematic, basinwide framework for implementing and evaluating
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico best management practices and changes in water quality will be essential to support the NCIIs and this report’s recommendations. It also will augment production goals with similarly important goals of nutrient and soil conservation and water quality protection. Following current practices, state and local organizations would administer individual NCII pilot projects. However, a new organization would be required to plan and evaluate all NCII projects at the river basin scale. A new Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Center—which is recommended and discussed in Chapter 5–would fulfill these and other roles. The new center would include participation of other federal agencies, Mississippi River basin states, and local agricultural (e.g., organized drainage districts in tile-drained areas) and other relevant entities. Beyond the Mississippi River basin, many aspects of the Chesapeake Bay Program office can serve as a model for establishing and operating this new center (although the Mississippi River Water Quality Center will require more direct involvement by the USDA). Developing an effective institutional model for multi-agency, multi-state cooperation would be an ongoing goal of the NCII program, in addition to achieving its more science-based, technical objectives. Box 3-1 presents further examples of interagency cooperation in nutrient management and control programs. BOX 3-1 Historic Examples of Interagency Cooperation on Nutrient Control Implementation Two important historical examples of interagency cooperation for watershed based nutrient implementation projects are the Rural Clean Water Program (RCWP) and the Management Systems Evaluation Areas (MSEA) program. The Rural Clean Water Program (RCWP) The RCWP was a ten-year federally sponsored nonpoint source (NPS) pollution control program. It was initiated in 1980 as an experimental effort to address agricultural NPS pollution problems in watersheds across the country. RCWP objectives were to: 1) achieve improved water quality in the approved project area in the most cost-effective manner possible in keeping with the provision of adequate supplies of food, fiber, and a quality environment, 2) assist agricultural landowners and operators to reduce agricultural NPS water pollutants and to improve water quality in rural areas to meet water quality standards or water quality goals, and 3) develop and test programs, policies, and procedures for the control of agricultural NPS pollution. The enabling legislation for the RCWP was the Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (P.L. 96-108). With a total appropriation of $64 million, the RCWP funded 21 experimental watershed projects across the country. The projects represented a wide range of pollution problems and impaired water uses (USEPA, 1993). The RCWP was administered by the USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, in consultation with EPA.
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico Management Systems Evaluation Area (MSEA) In 1989 the USDA instituted a water quality initiative as a research program entitled the Management Systems Evaluation Areas (MSEA), which had a mandate of three principles:1) protection of the Nation's ground water resources from contamination by fertilizers and pesticides without jeopardizing the economic viability of U.S. agriculture, 2) water quality programs that address the immediate need to halt contamination and the future need to alter fundamental farm practices, and 3) ultimate responsibility of farmers for changing production practices to avoid contaminating ground and surface waters. Within USDA, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) was a co-leader in these investigations, which were conducted in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Ohio. These studies were developed at the watershed scale to evaluate the effects of different farming practices on ground and surface water using nitrate-N and pesticides as the primary indicators. Leadership for these efforts was jointly provided by ARS and land grant institutions, with cooperation at each site from EPA and USGS. The RCWP and MSEA program demonstrated utility of interagency participation and cooperation on the resource centric issue of water quality and nutrient control. The agencies involved benefited from the fact that there was dedicated funding to support their involvement while gaining valuable experience. Although the RCWP had many benefits, the program scope was limited. The RCWP was aimed more at practices in specific places, rather than taking a broader, watershed-based perspective and attempting to target the most cost effective places to invest in water quality. Input from economists and other social scientists into the program was limited. Moreover, lessons gained through the RCWP were never fully institutionalized. With regard to the research-based MSEA program, scientists were to "assess landscapes and farming systems for their vulnerability to water contamination from farm chemicals, provide information about the behavior and effects of agrichemicals on the ecology, and identify environmentally sound farming systems that are acceptable to producers" (USDA, 1994). The concerns regarding pollutants were aimed more at pesticides rather than nutrients. One outcome was that the ARS enhanced its capability to conduct this type of integrated research, which extended into the Agricultural Systems for Environmental Quality (ASEQ) program as a follow-on to MSEA and the extension into Conservation Effects Assessment Program (CEAP). The MSEA program generated over 600 publications and reports from the various sites. Lessons learned from MSEA have been incorporated into CEAP in terms of data analysis, quality assurance/quality control, and database development (USDA, 1994; Jerry Hatfield, USDA National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Ames, Iowa, personal communication, 2008). The initial scope of the NCII program will require detailed planning with consideration of willing partners, existing projects, and available or potentially available resources. The initial number of NCII projects should be large enough to encompass a representative range of watershed types and runoff quality, and a corresponding range of nutrient control technologies and approaches; this will allow a good sampling of nutrient control prospects in the wide variety of landscapes and geographical settings in the Mississippi River basin. The initial number of projects also should not be so large that it overwhelms the capacity of scientists, farmers, and administrators involved in the nutrient control and water quality monitoring and assessment activities. This initial number will be an administrative and policy decision not necessarily grounded in scientific
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico evidence, and surely it will be adjusted over time. In the committee’s collective judgment, however, approximately 40 NCII projects is a reasonable starting point. These initial projects would be targeted to high priority watersheds that represent a range of cropping patterns, land types, and water quality protection challenges. These initial projects also will be located in areas of higher nutrient loadings. Table 1 lists nine states in the river basin with the largest nutrient contributions to the Mississippi River. The SPARROW model results (and which are reflected in Table 1) are useful in identifying these areas. Those results also show that areas of the highest nutrient loadings are not necessarily limited to these nine states—nutrient loadings are not based primarily on political boundaries, but are a function of watershed features, land use types, and climate and hydrology. The initial group of 40 NCII projects thus may be primarily focused in these nine states, but some of those projects could be located in other areas of high nutrient yields not in one of the nine states. EPA AUTHORITY REGARDING PILOT PROJECTS An important aspect of establishing nutrient pollution control demonstration projects is the Clean Water Act authorities that would enable or constrain such efforts. The EPA has multiple sources of authority under the federal Clean Water Act to authorize and implement demonstration or pilot projects designed to test methods for reducing nutrient loading into the river and the Gulf of Mexico. Most generally, in Section 101, Congress stated that the Clean Water Act’s objective “is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” and then gave the EPA Administrator authority to administer the act (33 U.S.C. § 1251). Under Section 102 of the act, The Administrator shall, after careful investigation, and in cooperation with other Federal agencies, State water pollution control agencies, interstate agencies, and the municipalities and industries involved, prepare or develop comprehensive programs for preventing, reducing, or eliminating the pollution of the navigable waters and ground waters and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters. … For the purpose of this section, the Administrator is authorized to make joint investigations with any such agencies of the condition of any waters in any State or States, and of the discharges of any sewage, industrial wastes, or substances which may adversely affect such waters [33 U.S.C. § 1252(a)]. Most importantly, Section 104 gives the EPA the authority to “establish national programs for the prevention, reduction, and elimination of pollution,”
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico including, “in cooperation with other Federal, State, and local agencies,” the explicit authorities to: (1) “conduct … research, investigations, experiments, training, demonstrations, surveys, and studies relating to the causes, effects, extent, prevention, reduction, and elimination of pollution”; and (2) to “establish, equip, and maintain a water quality surveillance system for the purpose of monitoring the quality of the navigable waters and ground waters and the contiguous zone and the oceans” (33 U.S.C. § 1254(a) (emphasis added)). In pursuit of the activities described in (1), moreover, the EPA is authorized to make grants (33 U.S.C. § 1254(b)(3)), and, explicitly, to cooperate with the Secretary of Agriculture and the states to: carry out a comprehensive study and research program to determine new and improved methods and the better application of existing methods of preventing, reducing, and eliminating pollution from agriculture, including the legal, economic, and other implications of the use of such methods [33 U.S.C. § 1254(p) (emphasis added)]. Sections 105 and 304, in turn, touch on EPA’s authority with respect to projects involving both nonpoint and agricultural sources. Under Section 105, EPA “is authorized to make grants to any State or States or interstate agency to demonstrate, in river basins or portions thereof, advanced treatment and environmental enhancement techniques to control pollution from all sources, within such basins or portions thereof, including nonpoint sources” and, “in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, [to make] grants to persons for research and demonstration projects with respect to new and improved methods of preventing, reducing, and eliminating pollution from agriculture” (33 U.S.C. § 1255(b), (e)(1)). In turn, under Section 304, EPA has a continuing duty to provide states and the public with information regarding the best “processes, procedures, and methods to control pollution resulting from … agricultural and silvicultural activities, including runoff from fields and crop and forest lands” and to enter agreements with the Secretary of Agriculture “to provide for the maximum utilization of other Federal laws and programs for the purpose of achieving and maintaining water quality” through states’ nonpoint source management plans (33 U.S.C. § 1314(f)(2)(A), (k)(1)). Finding/recommendation 4: The EPA and USDA should jointly establish a Mississippi River basin Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative (NCII). A new Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Center, which is discussed in more detail later in the report (see finding/recommendation 8), should administer the NCII. Goals of the NCII should be to: Demonstrate the ability to achieve reduced nutrient loadings by implementing and testing a network of nutrient control pilot projects.
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico These projects should be implemented in priority watersheds as part of an adaptive, nutrient control process; Evaluate local water quality and other benefits of nutrient control actions; Build an institutional model for cooperative research and nutrient control actions among federal, state, and local organizations; Evaluate the cost effectiveness, and strengthen the economic viability and community engagement, of various nutrient control actions; Compile and communicate best practices as revealed in the pilot projects. A suite of well-designed NCII projects would represent a research-based effort that could contribute greatly to the development of more effective, cost-effective solutions to nutrient export problems in the Mississippi River basin. In addition to their evaluative and research dimension, the NCII projects have the potential to contribute to local water quality improvements. Nutrient control actions in these watersheds should be considered as pilot efforts to guide future basinwide nutrient control activities. Results from the NCII watersheds should be monitored and published in an effort to improve and share knowledge of the effectiveness of nutrient control actions. Over time, nutrient control actions should be amenable to changes and improvements, and additional watersheds can be added to the NCII as leading agencies and participants see fit. The NCII also should be designed to identify questions for further inquiry, to enhance knowledge, and to realize land management and water quality improvements in three areas: Technical validation and program costs. Key issues here include evaluating outcomes of conservation and best management practices, water quality monitoring, and comparing on-farm results among the pilot projects. It is crucial that monitoring results are used to evaluate costs and benefits, and the transferability of results to other NCII project sites. The process of technical validation also should include development of common guidance for NCII projects. Institutional model development. The NCII should be jointly administered by EPA and USDA. The participation and resources of other federal agencies (e.g., the USGS) and of state agencies, along with individual farmer participation, will be crucial to its success. Participation of private sector groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the region’s land grant universities also will be important to its viability. Part of the NCII initiative should focus on enhancing and strengthening these many institutional arrangements and relations.
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico Socioeconomic viability. The farmers and others who work this landscape cannot be expected to implement nutrient control actions if it greatly interferes with their ability to make a living. The NCII initiative thus also will study economic and social implications of nutrient control actions, with an eye toward identifying those actions that are more cost effective and more widely embraced and implemented. The EPA SAB report recognized the importance of and links between social well-being and economic efficiency, noting that, “…preserving/enhancing social welfare will require implementing policies that target the most cost-effective sources and locations for nutrient reductions” (USEPA, 2007). Selection of watersheds to be included in the NCII program should consider several criteria, not all of which may be fully satisfied by any particular watershed. Watersheds should be representative of the population of watersheds that are to be targeted by the load allocation process, which is discussed in Chapter 4. They should have relatively high nutrient loads and be a significant contributor to either a locally impacted waterbody or the Mississippi River and northern Gulf of Mexico. To reduce costs and obtain results in a timely manner, consideration also should be given to watersheds with existing water quality and flow data sufficient to establish baseline values of nutrient loadings. Preference should be given to watersheds with documented histories of prior land uses and tillage patterns, cropping patterns, fertilizer and manure application rates, and nutrient control activities. Preliminary results of the evaluation of effectiveness are likely to be seen earlier in watersheds that have a history of cooperative, participatory nutrient management programs. Furthermore, it is in those watersheds where evaluation of socioeconomic viability is likely to be most productive—landowners in these watersheds have developed perceptions and opinions regarding various nutrient control and conservation actions; perceived impacts of nutrient management programs are more likely to have materialized; and issues related to equity are more likely to have arisen. IDENTIFYING NCII WATERSHEDS Finding/recommendation 5: As part of the NCII, the US EPA and USDA should identify a select group of Mississippi River basin priority watersheds for initial actions. The selection of priority watersheds should consider, but not necessarily be limited to, the following factors: Watersheds of higher nutrient loadings as identified by SPARROW model results; Watersheds that are sites of current and previous water quality and land use monitoring and evaluation programs and activities, and that possess inventories such as cropland and animal populations; and, Watersheds that are focal points of conservation activity and interest to USDA, state, and local parties.
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico The list of variables to be considered in selecting NCII priority watersheds is expected to expand and evolve over time. FINANCING THE NCII As agricultural sources contribute the largest share of nutrients that are delivered from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to the northern Gulf of Mexico, USDA-sponsored conservation programs and the Farm Bill2 recently reauthorized by Congress—with billions of dollars set aside for conservation and environmental quality—will be essential to both local water quality improvements and to reducing the areal extent of the hypoxic zone. The largest of the USDA conservation programs that provide incentives to farmers for voluntary participation are the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). These programs were authorized in the 1985 and 1996 Farm Bill, respectively. More recently, Congress authorized a Conservation Security Program (CSP), which complements the CSP and EQIP and is administered by the USDA Farm Services Agency (FSA) and its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). As part of the process in aligning these programs with national water quality objectives, it will be important also to align the priorities and institutional and programmatic structures of USDA conservation programs with EPA’s water quality priorities and mission. In doing so, the EPA and USDA certainly will look to draw upon previous interagency coordination. One example of these efforts is the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), which was begun in 2003 to quantify the environmental benefits of conservation practices used by private landowners participating in USDA conservation programs (NRC, 2008). Resources available to EPA, and its state partner programs, for such water quality improvement efforts are relatively small or are largely restricted to funding hard infrastructure investments for wastewater and water utilities. Innovative and non-traditional financing arrangements may need to be explored as a means for supporting water quality and nutrient management programs in the basin (Box 3-2 discusses an example of non-traditional financing arrangements). These agencies operate under a law—the Clean Water Act—that Congress did not design to effectively control or address agricultural nonpoint sources of pollutants. Within the USDA’s authorities, the recent Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 reauthorized flagship Working Land Conservation Programs, namely the EQIP and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). These 2 The Farm Bill is the primary legislation governing U.S. federal agricultural and food policy. It is a comprehensive omnibus bill that the U.S. Congress passes every several years and deals with agriculture and other affairs under USDA purview.
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico BOX 3-2 Non-traditional Financing to Support Water Quality and Nutrient Management Because of nitrate concerns for the city of Des Moines drinking water, the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and the Agriculture Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) are working in cooperation with the Des Moines Water Works, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and other organizations to monitor water quality. This monitoring characterizes water quality trends and conditions for locations within Iowa’s Raccoon River and Des Moines River watersheds Data analysis is conducted by the Des Moines Water Works laboratory. The intended use of this information is to assist communities in the watershed and other stakeholders in identifying water quality and environmental concerns; strategic decision making for planning and design of watershed management pollution abatement efforts, and; research on the short- and long-term impacts of water management efforts. Soybean farmers collectively invest a portion of their end-of-season profits to fund research and promotion efforts. This collective investment is called the checkoff. The soybean checkoff is supported entirely by soybean farmers with individual contributions of 0.5 percent of the market price per bushel sold each season. The Iowa Soybean Checkoff has provided nearly $2,000,000 over eight years to support the Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Environmental Programs. These programs seek to advance agricultural leadership in achieving data-driven environmental performance at farm and watershed scales, while maintaining or improving agronomic and economic performance. A primary goal of these programs is to provide tools and systems that enable farmers to provide environmental solutions and services. These funds are leveraged with other federal, state, and private sources of funding (also see: http://www.isafarmnet.com/ep/). The Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance is a group of 16 agricultural retailers that provide products and services to farmers in the Raccoon and Des Moines River watersheds in Iowa. The ACWA mission is to reduce nutrient loss — specifically nitrate — from farm fields and keep them from entering the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers and their tributaries. Each ACWA member pays dues based on its respective nitrogen sales within the watershed. The funds support water sampling and remediation projects. Since 2000, the ACWA has invested over $800,000 to finance the purchase and annual operation of four automatic event based samplers, one real-time water monitoring station located in the Raccoon watershed, and support a certified sampling network that collects biweekly water samples tested for nitrate and bacteria on 128 tributary sites located throughout the watersheds (for more information on ACWA see: http://www.acwa-rrws.org/. For information on the nitrate real time reading see this web address: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ia/nwis/uv/?site_no= 05484500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060). programs provide financial assistance to individual farmers to implement conservation practices on farms. Congress has authorized funding for these programs with projected budget growth over the next five years. These two working land programs could be tapped for local NCII projects to support incentives and cost share to individual farmers. EQIP is authorized at $1.2 billion in FY2008; $1.337 billion in FY2009; $1.45 billion in FY2010; $1.588 billion in FY2011; $1.588 billion in FY2011; and $1.75 billion in FY2012. The Clean Water Act (and EPA) Section 319 (nonpoint source management program) contains resources that also could be drawn upon to help finance the NCII, and the 319 program has seen some successes in helping manage nonpoint source pollutants (see: http://www.epa.gov/nps/Section319III/). The level of
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico resources in the 319 program, however, is very modest compared to USDA’s EQIP and CSP programs. In addition to EQIP and CSP programs, two other key programs that USDA could use to target support for nutrient reduction water quality enhancement projects (beyond individual farmer operations) in the Mississippi River basin are the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) and Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) Congress created the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) in 2008 as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (Section 2510) to provide additional assistance to farmers to help them undertake measures to specifically preserve and protect regional water resources. Farmers can participate in the AWEP as a means to address water quality and water quantity challenges that attend agricultural operations. The new program allows USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to contract with producers, especially those producers who are part of a local regional partnership agreement, who have proposed identifiable projects to address water quality or water quantity issues. Partners in these projects are expected to leverage federal funds. The Secretary of Agriculture may prioritize applications that contain higher percentages of agricultural land and producers in a region (Section 1240I(e)(2)(A)); result in high levels of applied agricultural water quality and water conservation activities (Section 1240i(e)(2)(B)); significantly enhance agricultural activity (Section 1240i(e)(2)(C)); allow for monitoring and evaluation (Section 1240i(e)(2)(D), or assist producers in meeting a regulatory requirement that reduces the producer’s economic scope (Section 1240i(e)(2)(E). Eligible partners include producer associations, state or local governments, and tribes. Authorization for AWEP is $73 million for FY2009 and 2010; $74 million for FY 2011; and $60 million for FY2012 and each year thereafter. Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) The Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) also was created as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Section 2707) and is designed to use existing authorities and leverage resources from outside the USDA to assist producers in coordinated efforts to address specific environmental challenges in particular areas. The vision of CCPI is to encourage the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to work with eligible partners to assist producers in participating in one or more of the covered programs to enhance conservation outcomes on agricultural and nonindustrial private forestland. Eligible partners include state and local
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Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico governments, tribes, producer associations, farmer cooperatives, institutions of higher education, non-profit groups with a history of working with producers to address conservation priorities. The Secretary of Agriculture is required to select projects through a competitive process from applications submitted by eligible partners. These projects will be implemented through multi-year agreements with partners. Agreements are not to last longer than five years. A particular partnership established under the initiative can have any of the following purposes (section 1243a): addressing local, state, multi-state or regional conservation priorities; encouraging producers to cooperate in meeting federal, state, and local regulatory requirements; encouraging producers to work together to install and maintain conservation practices that affect multiple operations; or promoting the development and demonstration of innovative conservation practices and delivery methods. In selecting applications, the Secretary of Agriculture must prioritize projects (section 1243f(2)) that: involve a high percentage of the producers and/or forest landowners in the area covered by the project; will leverage non-federal funding and technical resources and coordinate with other local, state, or federal conservation efforts; will result in a high level of conservation effort in the project area to address water quality, water conservation, or further other state, regional, or national conservation initiatives; will use innovative conservation methods, including outcome-based measures of success; or meet other requirements that the USDA may establish. Funding for CCPI is 6 percent of the funds made available each year to carry out selected farm bill conservation programs. Most of the funding for the initiative will come from the working land conservation programs, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, because they are the largest of the covered programs. Ninety percent of the funding reserved for CCPI is to be for projects chosen by the NRCS state conservationist, with input from state technical committees. Ten percent of the total funds will support projects to be selected by the Secretary through a national competition. Finding/recommendation 6: Resources from existing USDA conservation programs—the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Security Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)—should be drawn upon to help support NCII pilot projects. Other USDA watershed-based programs, such as the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) and the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), also could be used to contribute to the NCII. The agencies also should consider deploying EPA resources. Although these resources are less than those of the USDA conservation programs, the NCII could use funds from, for example, EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 319 (which covers nonpoint source pollution management) grant program. The NCII also could leverage state matching funds and private sector funding in marshalling financial support for its program and projects.