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Indiana Rural Water Works with the State and USDA to Protect Drinking Water Sources

The Alliance of Indiana Rural Water (AIRW) has been working with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s (IDEM) Drinking Water Branch (DWB) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Services Agency (FSA) to coordinate wellhead protection (WHP) efforts throughout the state.  This coordination is being facilitated by Toby Days of AIRW, who works with Jim Sullivan of DWB (who is also a member of ASDWA’s Source Water Committee) to first identify and select water systems to work with.  Then, Toby engages the associated county FSA office to reach out to farm producers within the WHP zone to provide information about the importance of protecting drinking water sources and make them aware of USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) funding eligibility for these areas.

This collaborative effort in Indiana was made possible because of all of the hard work by multiple actions that were previously undertaken, including:

  • Adopting Indiana state rules that mandate ground water systems to develop and implement WHP plans;
  • Collecting all of the source water assessment data and develop maps that delineate WHP areas and potential sources of contamination for each water system in the state;
  • Engaging the state FSA office to coordinate sharing of the WHP GIS data and maps;   (Note: This required each of the 92 county FSA offices to sign individual confidentiality agreements with IDEM.)
  • Developing each of the water system’s WHP plans and now begin working on implementation; and
  • Engaging USDA to work with EPA Region 5 to pilot an effort (for all the Region 5 states, including Indiana) that changes the terms of eligibility for farmers to enroll in the CRP continuous signup process.  Where throughout the rest of nation, CRP eligibility is based on a fixed radius around the well, this pilot effort now bases funding eligibility on the GIS-modeled wellhead capture and protection zones.

All the work that went into these efforts is now providing the foundation for AIRW to work with the county FSA offices to send out brochures (about WHP and CRP funding opportunities) to all of the farm producers who own or lease land within the WHP area, based on the combined GIS map overlay.  (Note:  Because of FSA confidentiality requirements to protect farmers names and addresses, the FSA (instead or AIRW or DWB) must contact the farmers directly.)

AIRW also works with some of the county FSA offices to conduct workshops that bring the farm producers and a variety of stakeholders together to discuss local WHP planning and CRP funding opportunities.  The FSA will typically host the meeting at their offices and arrange for speakers to talk about their applicable programs.  Audiences at these workshops are also comprised of water and wastewater operators; USDA, Soil and Water Conservation District, FSA, and state clean water and DWB staff; mayors; council members; county planners; health department and rural development representatives; watershed groups; and teachers.  For example, Toby Days of AIRW worked with multiple water systems in Randolph County on a comprehensive effort to conduct a workshop and develop a resource document with maps and contaminant source locations as well as begin implementing a WHP plan for the whole area.

This type of collaborative effort may take years to develop and many years to show significant progress.  However, the success of this work in Indiana is already being demonstrated with the first three farmers who have now signed up their acreage within the WHP area for CRP enrollment, even though they are being influenced by the high price of corn to put more land into production.

The brochures and Powerpoint presentations that AIRW developed for this effort to educate farmers and others about WHP and CRP eligibility are very useful and practical, and could be adapted and used in other areas of the country.  In fact, the New Hampshire and Maine drinking water programs have recently adapted them for their work in the Salmon Falls Watershed that is targeted at forest conservation.

An example of the brochure and Powerpoint presentations that were used for this effort are attached to this email for your reference.  For more information, contact Toby Days of IRW at: tdays@inh2o.org or 317-408-0475.

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