The Environmental Policy Initiative and the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center convened Mississippi River Basin government and conservation district stakeholders on Aug. 31, 2017, in St. Paul, MN. The workshop examined how to encourage small-scale watershed planning to identify farm conservation projects to improve water quality. EPI attorney and watershed policy fellow Jamie Konopacky and UMN Water Resources Center Research and Outreach Coordinator Ann Lewandowski led the all-day gathering. ELP Executive Director Kate Konschnik participated in the gathering as well.
Agricultural runoff is the leading cause of nutrient-impaired waterbodies across the US. Excess nutrients can lead to algae blooms, oxygen depleted “dead zones,” and reduced fishing and recreational opportunities.
In the past, farm policy conversations have been high-level and narrowly focused on whether to regulate agricultural runoff under the Clean Water Act. This forum looked at a different approach – amending and integrating voluntary Clean Water Act planning and farm bill conservation programs to support small-scale watershed planning and water quality improvement efforts in agricultural areas. The workshop is another step in bringing Konopacky’s academic work, which is rooted in successful on-the-ground efforts, to decision-makers.
Delegates from eight states representing state and federal agriculture and environmental agencies and local soil and water conservation districts attended the event. Each state shared concrete program and project examples that provide important pieces to the policy puzzle. In addition, the group engaged in a targeted, practical conversation that explored how to adapt, integrate, and leverage existing programs to promote small-scale watershed planning and implementation.
Participants workshopped a state-level policy framework and explored how the farm bill Regional Conservation Partnership Program could be amended to better support successful on-the-ground watershed projects in states. The draft framework will be circulated to participants and other interested stakeholders in Mississippi River basin states, providing a valuable rubric for discussing and evaluating states’ approaches to addressing agricultural runoff.
Participants also discussed the USDA Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework – which the USDA created to encourage a scientifically sound and consistent approach to small-scale watershed planning and implementation in agricultural areas. They talked about practical challenges and opportunities for using the ACPF to carry out small-scale watershed planning and implementation.
EPI and the Minnesota Water Resources Center will publish white papers informed by the August 31 discussion. We will post those papers when they are published.