An Environmental Working Group (EWG) report released April 12 examines water pollution caused by farm runoff and details how treating the problem after the fact is increasingly expensive, difficult and, if current trends continue, ultimately unsustainable.
Water that runs off poorly managed fields that have been treated with chemical fertilizers and manure is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus, and these two potent pollutants set off a cascade of harmful consequences, threatening the drinking water used by millions of Americans, EWG states in its report.
"Access to clean and healthy drinking water is a critical issue for Americans and the rest of the planet. The only solution to preserve clean water is to tackle the problem of polluted agricultural runoff at the source," said EWG senior scientist Olga Naidenko PhD, lead author of the report.
"A strong conservation title in the new farm bill is our best opportunity to help farmers protect drinking water," said co-author Craig Cox, EWG senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources. "We can't afford more cuts to conservation programs, and Congress must bring crop and revenue insurance programs back under the conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers."
The so-called "conservation compliance" provisions Congress wrote into the 1985 farm bill established the compact. Farmers agreed to undertake commonsense measures to limit pollution, cut soil erosion and protect wetlands in return for generous farm subsidies. The heavily subsidized crop and revenue insurance program has become the single most expensive farm subsidy – and has no conservation requirements attached, said EWG.
Many American farmers engage in responsible land and water stewardship. But, EWG said the list of American waters imperiled by agricultural pollution grows daily and now includes the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. The group is largely concerned with fertilizer use and runoff.
According to EWG, most farm operations are exempt from the pollution control requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, and few states have little authority to compel farmers to reduce water contamination.
The complete report: www.ewg.org/report/troubledwaters