Farm Bill Has Positive Projects for Drinking Water

On January 30th, the House passed the agreed-to compromise on the Agricultural Act of 2014 — more commonly known as the Farm Bill (HR 2642).  The Senate is expected to take up the measure sometime next week.  Projected to cost about $956 billion over the next ten years, most agree that the measure contains “victories” for almost all interested parties.  One of the more interesting provisions now requires that farmers must engage in basic conservation practices to be able to receive Federal subsidies for crop insurance on highly erodible land and wetlands.  Titles II (Conservation) and VI (Rural Development) contain most of the provisions that affect drinking water.

Title II, Conservation provides funding for numerous programs of interest to state drinking water programs.  It combines 23 separate conservation programs into a more compact grouping of 13.  Among the grouped programs are those for EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) that provides cost-sharing for farmers that take certain sensitive lands out of production and improve areas for wildlife habitat; Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) that make competitive awards for projects that encourage development of new or improved conservation practices; and Regional Conservation Partnerships that consolidates four existing programs to support projects to improve soil and water quality or wildlife habitat.  The Partnership will also fund projects in areas with particularly significant water quality and quantity issues.  Combined funding for these two Partnership initiatives is $100 million for each fiscal year 2014-18.  Other programs to be funded under this title are Grassroots Source Water Protection Programs that encourage state rural water associations to use technical assistance to promote conservation activities that protect water quality ($20 million in FYs 14-18); the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program that focuses on improving the longevity of dams and other flood control structures ($250 million until expended); and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program that allows for termination or modification of floodplain easements where there is a public interest need with no identifiable alternative (no separate funding necessary).

Title VI, Rural Development funds the water and wastewater circuit rider program at $20 million for FY 14 and “each fiscal year thereafter.”  Programs for emergency and imminent community water assistance grants and grants for water systems for Alaska Rural and Native Villages are continued but no specific funding is identified. Household water well systems are also funded at a level of $5 million for each fiscal year 2014-18.  The title continues the rural water infrastructure loan program but encourages, to the maximum extent practicable, private or cooperative lenders to finance rural water and waste disposal facilities — particularly where projects are anticipated to exceed $500,000.

Note:  ASDWA partnered with several other state, utility, and public interest organizations in partnering as the “Health Waters Coalition” to advocate for the passage of HR 2642 due to its strong conservation measures and tools to help protect sources of drinking water.  See the attached joint letter.

Attachment — Farm Bill Letter of Support (1-28-14)