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AWWA’s Mehan promotes successful partnership between water and agriculture

The water sector’s vital partnership with agriculture to protect source water, the environment, and human health was highlighted by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) this week at the Soil and Water Conservation Society's International Annual Conference.

Tracy Mehan (pictured at right), AWWA executive director of government affairs and a previous Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency, Tracy Mehanrepresented the Association as a keynote speaker at the conference in Pittsburgh, Penn., and spoke about the joint interests and recent successes of utilities and agriculture.

“Almost three years ago, AWWA embarked on a sustained effort to forge effective partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Congress and the agricultural community to promote source water protection as part of AWWA’s Total Water Solutions initiative,” said Mehan, referencing his earlier position as director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

AWWA and its members successfully advocated for passage of a 2018 Farm Bill that included an estimated $4 billion over the next 10 years in conservation funding for source water protection. The Association is supporting collaboration between water utilities and farmers and ranchers to take advantage of the USDA’s available funding and programs to protect source water.

2018 Farm Bill whieboard explainer“The Farm Bill now makes source water protection a specific goal of conservation and a more formal programmatic priority at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS),” Mehan said. (See AWWA’s whiteboard explainer that encouraged source water protection measures in the 2018 Farm Bill)

He cited AWWA’s recent work to help utilities in states including Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and prepare project applications for USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to achieve their mutual goals of land, water and public health protection.

“Conservation practices put in place today will help to reduce the number of new and recurring issues in the future,” Mehan said. “With appropriate conservation practices, the introduction of excess nutrients, sediments, chemicals and animal waste can be substantially reduced.”

Mehan described water utilities’ multiple barrier approach to provide adequate quantities of high-quality water at affordable rates. He explained that source water protection is a subset of watershed protection, focused primarily on sources of drinking water, and is the preferred alternative to treating water that already is contaminated.

He summarized the benefits of a preventative approach to source water protection as:
•    Treatment cost savings
•    Increased public health protection
•    Other environmental benefits such as habitat for endangered species and protecting air quality

Mehan concluded his comments by commending the science and conservation practices of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and urging its members to partner with local water utilities to partner in ongoing efforts to preserve land, water and public health.