AWWA Articles

2018 Farm Bill passage expands funding for drinking water protection

As the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and others in the water sector celebrate passage of the 2018 farm bill and its $4 billion to fund conservation programs to protect drinking water sources, benefits from water protection initiatives funded through the 2014 farm bill are already paying dividends.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) was created in the 2014 farm bill to provide financial and technical assistance for voluntary conservation projects that protect source water and other natural resources. The RCPP authorizes partnerships among agricultural producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and non-agricultural entities such as water utilities. AWWA has been working with its members for more than two years to facilitate these partnerships.

The latest farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, authorizes increased RCPP funding and mandates that 10 percent of funds authorized for conservation programs must be used to protect sources of drinking water. It also increases incentives for agricultural producers to implement practices that benefit source water protection and authorizes community water systems to work with state technical committees for agricultural programs to identify local priorities for source water protection.

“This is truly a historic time for source water protection,” said AWWA Chief Executive Officer David LaFrance. “Conservation efforts partnered between the USDA, water utilities and the agricultural industry are extremely important to everyone who depends on clean drinking water.”

AWWA embraces RCPP opportunities

After the RCPP was established in 2014, AWWA’s government affairs staff helped generate interest and ideas within the water sector for potential source water protection projects. As a result, three applications were submitted and approved by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

One project – Milford Lake Watershed in Kansas – kicked off on Nov. 13 during the Governor’s Conference for the Future of Water in Kansas. WaterOne, an AWWA utility member, is a partner in the project and is contributing cash support and in-kind assistance. More than 800,000 Kansans, including WaterOne’s customers, drink water originating in Milford Lake and
the surrounding watershed.

The NRCS, a USDA agency that works with private landowners to protect natural resources, plans to invest $2.88 million in the regional initiative to reduce the amount of nutrient and fertilizer runoff entering the Milford Lake reservoir and creating harmful cyanobacterial blooms. Project goals are to reduce Milford Watershed nutrient loading by 31,000 pounds of phosphorus per year and reduce the duration of harmful algal blooms on Milford Lake. The Kansas Water Office is coordinating the initiative with the support of WaterOne and nearly three dozen other regional agencies and partners.

The project also will draw on numerous conservation measures available to eligible landowners through the NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to reduce nutrient loading into the reservoir. These include nutrient management, cover crop farming, access control, fencing and other approved measures.

“The Milford RCPP is an unprecedented partnership that brings together both agricultural producers and downstream stakeholders in an effort to preserve our shared resources,” said Mike Armstrong, WaterOne’s general manager. “As a water utility, we have a special understanding of the concept that when it comes to water quality, everyone lives downstream.”

AWWA also collaborated on these approved RCPP projects:

   • Mills River Source Water Protection, North Carolina: The project seeks to restore streambanks, reduce sediment and nutrients and create a safe system for mixing agrichemicals. It includes 11 partners and $1.5 million in matching funds to address source water protection needs for two downstream utilities.
   • Otter Lake Source Water Protection, Illinois: The project reduces sediment and nutrient loading and the occurrence of cyanobacterial blooms. It includes 16 partners and $1.7 million in funding to protect the drinking water of 14,500 rural residents of one utility.

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