National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA)

NACWA applauds USDA on water quality initiative but calls on congress to weigh on nutrients

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Washington, D.C. -- The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) applauds U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement on May 8, 2012, of the National Water Quality Initiative to control and trap nutrient and manure runoff that pollute U.S. waterways.

Nutrient runoff is the greatest water quality challenge facing the United States 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 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,” Kirk continued.

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.

NACWA has convened a coalition of water, wastewater, state regulators, and sustainable agricultural organizations to advocate for controlling nutrient runoff from agricultural operations.  The Healthy Waters Coalition unveiled policy recommendations on March 6, 2012, to target conservation spending to controlling agriculture nutrient runoff.
“Water and wastewater utilities are under increasing pressure to control nutrients in water supplies. We need the agricultural community at the table with us to improve water quality,” continued Kirk, “Congress has an opportunity in this Farm Bill debate to clearly state that water quality, specifically with respect to nutrient pollution, is a national concern and that our agricultural operators are full partners in addressing the nutrient challenge.”

NACWA represents the interests of more than 300 public agencies and organizations that have made the pursuit of scientifically based, technically sound and cost effective laws and regulations their objective. NACWA members serve the majority of the sewered population in the United States and collectively treat and reclaim more than 18 billion gallons of wastewater daily.

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