The conservation and management of our fresh water supply is key to supporting agriculture, wildfire, habitat, forestry, ranching, and so much more. Whether managing an excess of water in times of flood, or mitigating the effects of drought in times of shortage, water supply management is an important component of water conservation.
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 Dams
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.