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New Report Calls on States to Regulate Water Pollution from Agriculture

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Mississippi River Collaborative have released a new report entitled, “Cultivating Clean Water” that examines the effectiveness of state-based regulatory programs to control agricultural water pollution and recommends policies that will result in cleaner water.

This report provides a snapshot of what is currently a fragmented and poorly-implemented system of state-based regulation of agricultural pollution.  Manure, fertilizer and other agricultural pollutants are a significant source of pollution affecting a huge number of lakes and streams across the country, endangering drinking water supplies, threatening wildlife and contributing to the massive Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Voluntary agricultural conservation programs can play an important role in reducing water pollution if they are better targeted and fully funded. The report:  focuses on management practices to control nitrogen and phosphorus pollution; provides an overview of existing state programs; and gives a template for creating effective regulations that work well for farmers and the environment.

Part 1 of the report examines seven existing state regulatory programs that address agricultural nonpoint source pollution.  These programs involve the state-wide implementation of a pollution management plan and/or best management practices that minimize farm pollution of surface water and groundwater.

Part 2 of the report focuses on five common-sense agricultural management practices that are required by several states: 1) vegetative buffers between crop land and water bodies; 2) setbacks for applying manure and fertilizer near waterways; 3) restrictions on applying manure in winter; 4) keeping livestock out of water bodies; and  5) restrictions on applying fertilizer in fall.

The report finds that a number of states have adopted regulations to control agricultural pollution.  However, progress is tempered by a number of common problems that undermine the effectiveness of the regulations.  All states in the study fall short on enforcement and monitoring, largely as a result of limited funding and staff resources and political resistance to regulation of agriculture.

Click here to download the full “Cultivating Clean Water” report