By Coleman Garrison
The Environmental Protection Agency released a national snapshot of its Section 319 grants program last week to highlight the voluntary program’s many conservation successes in recent years. This week, NACD is joining the celebration.
Technical and financial assistance allocated through the Section 319 grant program, also called the Nonpoint Source Program, helps states, territories, and tribes address nonpoint-source pollution concerns through education and monitoring at the local level. Conservation districts throughout the country are critical partners to those who receive Section 319 grants. Districts help provide the on-the-ground assistance to landowners as they implement best management practices and help decision-making bodies create plans to improve water quality in impaired waterbodies.
Congress passed Section 319(h) of the Clean Water Act in 1987, establishing the Section 319 grant program to curb the amount of nonpoint-source pollution impairing key waterways. Pollution from point sources, such as discharge from industrial and sewage treatment plants, can be attributed to a single identifiable source. Nonpoint sources of pollution can’t be attributed to one source. They include runoff, for instance, which could be carrying pollutants from front yards, farm fields, urban concrete-scapes, or just about any other kind of landscape.
In its national snapshot, EPA included several profiles of conservation districts that used 319 grants to realize improvements in their communities’ water quality. For instance, the Richland and Cass Soil Conservation Districts in North Dakota worked together to implement three 319 grants to improve septic systems and agricultural practices. Their efforts were so successful, the North Dakota Department of Health delisted the Wild Rice River as an impaired waterbody. You can read more about The Richland SCD and the Cass SCDs’ efforts here, and view a comprehensive list of 319 grant projects here.
Altogether, conservation districts make up the largest voluntary conservation delivery system in this nation. Because districts are locally-led, and many of them have been around for more than seven decades, they have been able to cultivate long-standing, highly productive relationships with landowners. NACD believes the 319 program is one of the many key federal programs that America’s voluntary conservation delivery system relies on. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to work with Congress to ensure the 319 program is funded at a level that meets our nation’s water quality needs.