Farm Bill reauthorization could increase USDA’s protection of source water

small water system

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a GOP-supported Farm Bill reauthorization plan that would increase the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) focus on protecting sources of drinking water from farm runoff.

The Agriculture and Nutrition Act (H.R. 2) contains a number of provisions backed by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) that would aim to improve and encourage source water protection activities by farmers. These include a reauthorization of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which offers USDA grant assistance to farmers who partner with nearby water utilities and other local stakeholders on joint projects that protect or improve water quality or meet other stated environmental objectives.

The bill would amend the RCPP to explicitly make projects related to the “protection of source waters for drinking water” an eligible expense for RCPP assistance.

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H.R. 2 would increase the prominence of source water protection efforts throughout all conservation programs. It would direct USDA, as it carries out any conservation program under the Farm Bill, to “encourage practices that relate to water quality and water quantity that protect source waters for drinking water.”

Additionally, USDA would be directed to work collaboratively with community water systems to identify local priority areas for source water protection work and to set aside at least 10 percent of cross-program conservation funding for use on source water protection efforts.

Finally, the bill would extend funding for USDA’s water, waste disposal and wastewater facility grant program, which offers grants and loans to small water utilities to upgrade their drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.

Source: AMWA

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