Kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: Farm bill must continue to fund clean-water efforts

November 15, 2012 

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Clean water is a critical element — for humans, businesses, industry, farmers, and for all the life on Earth that humans need to survive.

Americans have a right to clean water, and healthy streams, rivers and lakes. Congress decided so 40 years ago with passage of the Clean Water Act.

The farm bill, though, represents another federal legislation that has a significant impact on the health of our waterways. The current Congress allowed the bill to expire at the end of September. As a result, various parts of it expired immediately, and others will expire or revert in the coming months to the 1948 version of the farm bill. Ponder that for a moment — 1948!

As Congress considers a new farm bill, the conservation components must be weighted heavily. Conservation compliance and sufficient funding for various conservation initiatives must be retained in a new bill, to help protect our waterways and our health.

For decades, the farm bill has helped support farmers financially to help stabilize the risks of market volatility and weather variability that farmers encounter when growing food. Taxpayers contribute approximately 60 percent of that financial support.

In return for that support, farmers have been required to conserve highly erodible soils and wetlands, rather than farm on them. This conservation-compliance provision has helped reduce soil losses, protect wetlands, and increase water quality in our waterways.

For Kentucky, this is important. On cultivated land, Kentucky lost about 8.7 tons of soil per acre per year in 1982.

By 2007, that had been reduced to 4.1 tons per acre per year, but that was still higher than the national average of 3 tons per acre per year.

Unfortunately, that still means soil is lost faster than it is created. Kentucky has also lost over 80 percent of our original wetland acreage, which represents an enormous loss in natural flood-storage capacity, and water-pollutant removal.

Congress must also retain current funding for other land conservation initiatives, such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Wetland Reserve Program, which help farmers implement conservation measures that protect soil and water, among other natural resources.

Many of Kentucky's streams, rivers and lakes are unhealthy due to a variety of farming practices that conservation compliance and conservation programs attempt to address.

Congress must retain these conservation measures in new legislation, for the benefit of Kentucky's waterways, and the benefit of all Kentuckians.

Tim Joice is the water policy director with Kentucky Waterways Alliance in Louisville.

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