Watching Water Issues

No matter what part of the country you are in, chances are water issues will impact your membership. When it comes to water issues in our state, there are three things top-of-mind right now. First are pesticide issues.

In the late 1990s, the headlines in some of the newspapers were that we had a lot of drinking water issues due to some notices of violations. That also led to some clean water act issues, when the state and EPA started listing water on the 303d list for impairment due to atrazine. I was with the Missouri Corn Growers Association then, and our association did a lot of scientific research working with the federal and state agencies. We also did a lot of monitoring and educational, proactive work. Through that activity, we got a pretty good handle on the issue. The pesticide issues are fairly calm right now, but we must continue to advocate for responsible stewardship and stay engaged with the regulatory agencies.

The second thing that comes to mind right now as far as water issues is water quality standards. What are water quality standards? They are basically the standards or criteria by which the quality of water is determined.

What is good water? Back in 2000-01, EPA Region 7 rejected Missouri’s water quality standards. From that time on, the state and interested parties have had ongoing conversations as to what the water quality criteria should look like and how “good” the water should be. This is very important work because what we are doing is determining the water quality issues of the future.

Once you’ve got the standards, you monitor and determine where waters don’t meet the standards. Those waters are then listed as impaired and the Total Maximum Daily Loads are established.

One water quality standard that has some in-production agriculture concerned is the development of nutrient criteria. I know EPA has sent out some guidelines and suggestions, encouraging states to develop nutrient criteria. And that’s no different in Missouri. We are collecting information on water quality in the state’s lakes and trying to determine how many nutrients are in them. So we’ve got that information for phosphorous and nitrogen.

By definition, the nutrient criteria look at several factors including where the lake is, what is its designated use in that area, a subjective look at the watershed, and if it’s in a cropland or woodland area, dimensions of lake, and residence time, defined as how much water flows through the lake.

Once they measure these factors, the lakes in Missouri will either be impaired or won’t be impaired.

The Cropland Debate

Cropland is really in the cross-hairs in all this discussion.

The final issue involving water is hypoxia. This is an issue that’s been going on for years, but just recently, EPA released its updated action plan. I think EPA will be tying this issue much more to the states, trying to obligate the state to reduce nutrient runoff. In EPA’s latest action plan, it states that “The greatest source of pollution causing the hypoxia zone in the Gulf is non-point source runoff from agriculture.” The improvised goal, according to this information, is for a 45% reduction in riverine total nitrogen and phosphorous load.

Associated with this are two action steps regarding hypoxia. States are to develop comprehensive nitrogen and phosphorous reduction strategies. EPA will provide direct financial and technical support to state partners in adoption of state numeric nutrients standards.

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