EPA Update with Focus on Water Quality and Agriculture
November 16th, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued two announcements this week concerning coordination and partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect the nation’s water quality.
Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution Guidelines Highlight USDA
The EPA released a draft revision of Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS) Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories. The last major revision of the Guidelines was issued in 2004. When finalized, the Guidelines are binding requirements that apply to Section 319 grant funding to the states. EPA is taking comments on the guidelines through December 7, 2012. Comments can be submitted by emailing them to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The draft Guidelines emphasize that states should work closely with NRCS to address water pollution from agricultural sources. They flag partnership opportunities in Farm Bill conservation programs including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and Wetlands Reserve Program.
NRCS has launched a National Water Quality Initiative that provides for coordinated use of state and EPA resources with NRCS conservation program resources to address agriculture-related nutrient and sediment impairments in 154 watersheds. Section 319 funds can be used for activities that complement Farm Bill funding, including monitoring instream water quality, development of watershed-base plans to reduce pollutant loading, and funding watershed coordinators and technical assistance providers to work with local communities to promote the adoption of conservation practices.
In addition to increased coordination with Farm Bill conservation programs, other significant revisions in the Guidelines entail:
• A rebalancing of Section 319 funding so that at least 50 percent of the funding goes to the implementation of watershed-based plans. This set aside is termed “watershed project funds.” The remaining 50 percent of funding, designated as “NPS program funds” is to be used for other planning, assessment, and management activities and for statewide NPS programs and projects;
• A focus on updating NPS management programs on a 5-year basis; and
• Removal of a cap on the use of Section 319 NPS Program Funds for statewide NPS monitoring and assessment activities.
States and EPA regions will begin to implement the Guidelines in FY2013. EPA Regions are also allowed to supplement the Guidelines with additional guidance or guidance that complements the basic requirements of the EPA Guidelines. More information is available on EPA’s Section 319 Program website.
Source Water Collaborative’s New Toolkit for Drinking Water Source Protection
The Source Water Collaborative is an organization that focuses on protecting the nation’s drinking water resources. The organization includes 23 federal, state and local organizations, including EPA and USDA’s Farm Service Agency. The Collaborative recently launched an online toolkit that provides steps that source water protection professionals and others working at the state level can take to build partnerships with NRCS to get more agricultural conservation practices on the ground to protect sources of drinking water. The Collaborative is now working with the National Association of Conservation Districts to develop a locally-focused supplement to the toolkit to provide a step-by-step process for collaborating with conservation districts.