A bipartisan group of senators are asking Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to expand the National Water Quality Initiative now housed at the Natural Resources Conservation Service to prioritize conservation measures in the 2018 Farm Bill to address water quality.
“This comprehensive initiative would allow improved coordination between conservation programs, better customer service and outreach to producers, and new opportunities to strategically invest in watersheds that can have the biggest impact on reducing nutrient loss, improving soil health, protecting source water and restoring and enhancing wildlife habitat,” the senators write in a letter to Perdue. “It has the further benefit of allowing the department to remove administrative barriers between programs and agencies and take a more holistic approach to conservation outcomes.”
Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, led the bipartisan letter, which was also signed by Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Tom Carper, D-Del., Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
The senators provided specific suggestions for implementing the provisions: USDA should identify critical watersheds where USDA conservation investments can yield measurable results in improving water quality within the next decade. The senators write “this could be accomplished using existing USDA watershed assessments . . . , designations from other federal agencies . . . or watersheds identified as priorities by state agencies.”
The senators also made recommendations for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, source water protection and crop insurance.