Water

NACD works to improve and protect water resources by providing conservation districts with the technical assistance they need to advise local landowners on nutrient management strategies and erosion prevention practices.

WATER QUALITY

No matter where you live, where you play, or where you work, clean water is a critical resource. NACD and conservation districts make sure landowners have the proper tools they need to protect water from sediment runoff, nutrients, and other contaminants. The association is also committed to being the voice of conservation districts on the most pressing federal water conservation issues, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WOTUS rule.

NACD supports the recent legislative attempts to repeal the EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, and opposes any measure that expands the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act (CWA). After completing an economic analysis, EPA and USACE have estimated the rule would result in a 3 percent increase in CWA jurisdiction. The extent of the expansion is difficult to predict with precision; however, if the rule were to encompass all adjacent waters and most isolated wetlands and ditches, NACD estimates it would be significantly greater than 3 percent.

NACD supports the Supreme Court’s recent decision to leave the management of non-navigable waters in the hands of landowners and local governments. For more than 75 years, conservation districts have been leaders in locally-led efforts to ensure a clean and sustainable water supply for the nation. With earned trust and a proven ability to form partnerships at the local level, conservation districts are well positioned to play a key role in addressing water quality challenges in local communities. NACD continues to track WOTUS repeal legislation in Congress and is monitoring the courts’ ongoing review of the WOTUS rule.

For context, here’s a timeline of events:

  • April 2014: EPA published a proposed rule on the definition of WOTUS under CWA.
  • May 2015: The EPA published revised WOTUS rule language.
  • August 27, 2015: The North Dakota District Court issued a stay against the enforcement of the WOTUS rule in 13 states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming)
  • August 28, 2015: The WOTUS rule went into effect nationwide.
  • October 2015: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay against the enforcement of the WOTUS rule.
  • February 2016: The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it had jurisdiction under CWA and a case could proceed.
  • July 2016: Multiple cases heard in courts across the country.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, called CAFOs for short, are large-scale livestock operations that take place in relatively confined areas. The definition of what constitutes a CAFO depends upon the number and type of livestock in the operation (go here for more details). One of the most significant challenges that CAFO operators face is efficiently managing animal waste. Proper management through Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMP) helps ensure that manure and litter is collected, stored, and used or disposed of in an ecologically sound manner, preventing the contamination of the local watershed. The EPA regulates CAFOs that discharge or propose to discharge waste into waterbodies by requiring National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

Conservation districts can work with CAFO operators to provide technical assistance and best management practices that ensure proper waste management occurs, and so EPA, state, and local regulations are met.

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) represent the total amount of a single pollutant a water body can receive and still meet minimum water quality standards to support existing and designated uses like recreational or commercial fishing, or community drinking water. Pollutants with designated TMDLs include sediments, heavy metals, chemicals, fecal coliform bacteria, and nutrients – most notably nitrogen and phosphorus.

Excessive water pollution can affect aquatic wildlife by creating hypoxic or “dead” zones (as seen in the Gulf of Mexico) or by contributing to toxic algal blooms, which have the potential to devastate tourism and contaminate drinking water supplies (as seen in the Western Lake Erie Basin and along Florida’s coasts). The Clean Water Act requires states, territories, and authorized tribes to identify bodies of water that do not meet water quality standards. These bodies of water are submitted to the EPA for review and approval for placement on the 303(d) list of impaired streams.

NACD and America’s conservation districts are actively engaged in supporting voluntary water quality programs in watersheds across the country. Our district members helped develop state Watershed Implementation Plans for the Chesapeake Bay; they collaborate with producer, governmental, and other conservation groups through the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program on water conservation projects countrywide; and lead payments for ecosystem services projects, such as the Big Sioux River Watershed Project in South Dakota.

An emerging method of addressing nutrient pollution involves trading “water quality credits.” Because non-point pollution sources, like crop fields and suburban lawns, aren’t regulated under the Clean Water Act, farmers, ranchers, and even suburbanites can generate and sell credits to regulated point source polluters to help the latter offset their own discharges and meet their NPDES permit requirements.

Water quality trading is catching on nationwide, not only as an inexpensive way for factories and water treatment plants to ensure compliance with Clean Water Act provisions, but also as a method for reducing the amount of nutrient and sediment runoff that comes from farms. Producers generate the credits when they install conservation practices on their land that prevent a measurable amount of nutrient pollution from reaching adjacent waterways.

Conservation districts can play a key role in water quality trading markets as third-party brokers of credits or as credit verifying entities. One project that districts have been intimately involved in is the Ohio River Basin Trading Project, which spans conservation districts in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. NACD is also in the process of developing a series of case studies on district-led water quality trading market initiatives in conjunction with the American Farmland Trust. Make sure to check in at our Newsroom for the latest updates on the project.

Source Water Collaborative Toolkit |PDF| This toolkit is useful for anyone working in source water protection. Each insightful tip is based on advice NACD received from NRCS and from state and regional source water coordinators who have fostered and maintained effective partnerships.

New Opportunities for Conservation Districts: Markets, Trading and Credits |PDFThis spring 2009 feature in NACD’s quarterly publication The Resource gives an overview of water quality trading markets and highlights the stories of conservation districts that have participated in these markets.

Water Works: Conservation Districts Tackling Water Issues |PDF| This May/June 2008 feature in NACD’s publication News and Views (the predecessor to The Resource) details several district-led water conservation projects.

Source Water Collaborative
NACD is a member of the national Source Water Collaborative, 25 organizations committed to working together to protect drinking water sources.  There are also collaborative efforts at the state, regional, and local levels, often with conservation district participation and leadership.

Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water
EPA Office of Water maintains resources on TMDLs, Water Quality Trading and other water quality issues, including weekly Water Headlines and other E-Newsletters.

Natural Resources Conservation Service
NRCS works cooperatively with a variety of landowners to provide technical and financial assistance in achieving natural resource conservation goals such as water quality.

WATER QUANTITY

Since both a lack of water and excessive water can present problems for producers and landowners, conservation districts work with a variety of stakeholders in managing water quantity to help ensure a sufficient supply exists to meet a variety of needs. In particular, NACD and districts work to prevent and mitigate the effects of drought, advance the restoration of dams and reservoirs, and improve the management of stormwater.

Drought happens, and when it does, it affects agriculture, endangered species, recreation, tourism, wildfire, drinking water supply, and energy development. For these reasons, drought preparedness must be a national priority. Local conservation districts and NACD continue to play key roles in mitigating the far-reaching impacts of drought by developing, vetting, and supporting the best in water conservation practices at the local and federal levels. These practices reduce soil erosion, maintain soil moisture, and conserve water; in effect, they act as forms of insurance against weather extremes like drought.

NACD works to integrate drought planning into national policy on Capitol Hill and through our partnership with the National Drought Mitigation Center and the Bureau of Reclamation, the primary federal agency that oversees water availability in the West. In 2013, the White House launched an interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership with the goal of increasing landowner access t0 federal drought resources. NACD participated in the 2016 White House Drought Symposium where the partnership released it’s drought memorandum and action plan – “Building National Capabilities for Long-Term Drought Resilience” – which includes opportunities for increased conservation district involvement in drought preparation.

Control and management of stormwater is an integral part of resource management systems in developed and developing areas. Effective stormwater management, in particular, requires the involvement and cooperation of all levels of government.

In urban and developing areas, impermeable surfaces like cement and asphalt don’t allow rainfall to percolate into the ground where it can be cleansed by the soil and returned to the water table. This lack of permeable surfaces in urbanized areas means pollutants from point and non-point sources – including excess nutrients from lawns – end up in communities’ sewer systems where they can cost a pretty penny to treat. In some of the United States’ older cities and municipalities, some of that untreated, pollutant carrying rainfall ends up flowing directly into streams, rivers, and lakes where it can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems, commercial fisheries, and tourism.

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Stormwater Program, authorized by Congress under the Clean Water Act, is a comprehensive two-phased national program for addressing non-agricultural sources of stormwater discharges. Implemented by states in most cases, the program relies on NPDES permits to control harmful pollutants from being carried by stormwater runoff into local waterbodies.

Conservation districts are working to meet the natural resources needs of landowners in an era of shifting landscapes. Click the link above to read more about how urban and community stormwater management is a key leadership area for conservation districts. Take a look through NACD’s Management Resources to read more about how urban and community stormwater management is a key leadership area for conservation districts.

Small watershed dam structures (P.L. 566/534) were created starting in the 1940s and 50s to provide many benefits for local communities. Many of the USDA-built structures were sponsored by local conservation districts. Small watershed dams create reservoirs of water that mitigate the affects of drought, provide recreational opportunities, and prevent flooding by retaining and regulating floodwater. The majority of these structures are approaching or are at the end of their lifespans, so maintenance and rehabilitation are top priorities for many conservation districts.

Bureau of Reclamation
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation operates, constructs, and manages over 600 dams and reservoirs throughout the West and Great Plains. These water management facilities provide hydroelectric power, drinking water to homes, and irrigation for farmers.

Bridging the Headgate
Many agencies and organizations participate with NACD in the Bridging the Headgate partnership to address a variety of on- and off-farm water management issues. The partnership seeks to leverage technical resources from existing federal, state, and local water resource programs by working cooperatively across agencies and organizations. Other partners include the Bureau of Reclamation, NRCS, the National Association of State Conservation Agencies, the National Water Resources Association, the Western States Water Council and the Irrigation Association.

National Watershed Coalition
Management at a watershed-scale allows land managers to take a holistic view of natural resources conservation. The National Watershed Coalition is an NACD partner that advocates total resource management principles. The NWC also works to ensure proper management and rehabilitation of the nation’s 11,000 PL 566/534 watershed dams.

STORMWATER MANAGEMENT RESOURCES

According to the National Water Quality Inventory, 70 percent of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds; 78 percent of bays and estuaries; and 55 percent of rivers and streams assessed in the U.S. are impaired by pollution and do not meet minimum water quality standards. The leading causes of river and stream impairments are pathogens, sediments, and nutrients; and the top probable source of these impairments is agriculture. Other waterbodies are impaired due to mercury pollution or Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and often, the probable cause of impairment is unknown.

To address impairments linked to stormwater runoff, conservation districts across the nation have engaged in state stormwater management programs and begun providing urban erosion and sediment control services. They also provide assistance to developers and operators of smaller MS4s and promote the use of “low impact development” practices designed to improve water quality and stormwater management.

DISTRICT SHOWCASES

  • Dutchess SWCD – The Dutchess SWCD in New York provides assistance with stormwater practices related to construction activities and city planning.
  • Dakota SWCD – The Dakota SWCD in Minnesota works in partnership with the state, watersheds, local units of government, developers, and landowners to provide education, technical, and financial support to minimize the impact of stormwater runoff from new and existing development.
  • Papio-Missouri NRD – The Papillion Creek Watershed Partnership – made up of the NRD, two counties, and eight cities in Nebraska – addresses issues related to surface water quality and stormwater quantity within the watershed.
  • Whidbey Island CD – The Whidbey Island Conservation District in Washington provides information on alternative stormwater management. The CD also held a series of three low impact development workshops in 2008.
  • Clark CD – The Clark Conservation District in Washington created this brochure on stormwater management that may be of help to your district. Click here to view the PDF.

RESOURCES

Low Impact Development: Put a LID on it |PDF| – Low impact development is considered by many as a more resource-friendly alternative to conventional stormwater practices. Read our feature story from the fall 2009 edition of The Resource to learn about LID.

TRAINING

Latest News

Calendar of Events

Find your Local District