May 10, 2012

USDA Water Quality Initiative Good Start, But Not Enough, Says NACWA

NACWA applauds the USDA's Water Quality Initiative but calls on Congress to do more

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) applauds U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack’s May 8 announcement of the National Water Quality initiative to control and trap nutrient runoff and manure runoff that pollute U.S. waterways.

According to the NACWA, nutrient runoff is the greatest water quality challenge facing the U.S. today. The Environmental Protection Agency attributes excess nutrients as the direct or indirect cause of water quality impairment in more than 50% of impaired river and stream miles and 50% of impaired lake acres and nearly 60% of impaired bay and estuarine square miles.For most waters, runoff from agricultural lands is the dominant source of the nutrient impairments, according to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“NACWA is pleased that Secretary Vilsack recognizes that excessive nutrient runoff from agricultural operations is causing widespread water quality problems and must be dealt with,” commented Ken Kirk, NACWA’s executive director. “But the magnitude and scope of the agricultural nutrient challenge is too large for this single initiative to address. Congress needs to strengthen the Farm Bill and USDA’s ability to take more aggressive action to help farmers control nutrient runoff and seek consistent and broad-based improvements to water quality.”

The presence of excessive nutrients—phosphorus and nitrogen—in surface and groundwater leads to a variety of adverse human health and aquatic impacts. For example, high nitrate levels in drinking water can lead to cancer, neurological and kidney disorders, and death in infants. Excessive nutrients in lakes can cause harmful algal blooms, which can cause gastrointestinal illness, skin rashes and neurological disorders if human contact occurs. Excessive nutrients in surface waters, particularly in estuaries and other coastal waters, lead to hypoxia or deadzones in which no aquatic life can survive, damaging fishing and recreational industries.