EWG: Sen. Casey’s Conservation Bill Would Expand Protection of Drinking Water Sources from Agriculture Pollution

Proposal Would Triple Number of Farm Acres Eligible for USDA Conservation Program

FRIDAY, MAY 25, 2018

WASHINGTON – The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Improvement Act, introduced today by Sen. Bob Casey D-Pa., would provide much needed drinking water protections for millions of Americans. The bill would protect drinking water sources by tripling the number of acres farmers can enroll in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP, said EWG’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources Craig Cox.

“By tripling the number of acres that filter runoff from hard-to-farm lands that bump up against rivers and streams, we could significantly reduce the amount of farm pollution that runs off into sources of drinking water that serve millions of Americans,” said Cox. “At the same time, the bill would better target acres enrolled through the Conservation Reserve Program.”

CREP agreements leverage federal funding provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, with state funding to sign farmers and land owners up for long-term contracts to establish buffers of trees and grasses along rivers and streams. Some CREP agreements include a permanent easement that is held by the state.

Since 1997, 33 states have entered into 45 CREP agreements with the USDA to create  vegetative buffers that cut pollution from cropland. Chesapeake Bay CREP agreements have helped plant more than 1,800 miles of streamside buffers, and a CREP agreement between the USDA and the state of Minnesota has restored more than 100,000 acres of wetlands and floodplain forest along the Minnesota River and its tributaries.

Casey’s CREP Improvement Act would aim to increase the amount of land enrolled in CREP from the current 1.1 million acres to 3 million acres by 2023, roughly tripling the acres devoted to vegetative buffers in CRP.

In a recent report, EWG found that land enrolled through general CRP contracts was often a poor return on taxpayer investment because farmers regularly enroll whole fields of sensitive land into the program when crop prices are low and then return them to production when prices rebound. Between 2007 and 2014, this revolving door let farmers take nearly 16 million acres out of CRP, negating the environmental and public health gains taxpayers paid more than $7 billion to achieve. By contrast, CREP focuses on smaller tracts of high-priority lands, often for longer durations.

“Increasing the number of CREP acres devoted to planting trees and grasses on riverside lands will not only help filter farm pollution, reduce flooding, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife, but it will also better target the taxpayer’s investment in CRP,” added Cox. “The crisis of agricultural contamination of drinking water sources is growing, and the only way to reverse the problem is by more farms taking advantage of taxpayer-funded conservation programs like CREP – Sen. Casey’s proposal will help them do just that.”

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