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What Can Farmers Do to Better Protect Streams and Rivers?

Farming is feeding the population. But it’s also polluting the nation’s streams and rivers. What is the solution to this problem?

A story on National Public Radio says that the problems are tied to fertilizer and manure run-off and that chemically-filled water from farms is tainting local drinking water as a result.

“The leading problems are driven by fertilizer and manure runoff from farm operations,” says Craig Cox, who is the Environmental Working Group’s top expert on agriculture, in the NPR story.  It is “interfering with people’s vacations,” he adds. [They’re] “taking their kids to the beach and the beach is closed. There’s stories about people getting sick.”

Now what?

Cox told the news outlet that there are things that farmers can do to lessen the problem. One thing is to plant  “cover crops,” which ensure that there is always vegetation to capture nitrates before that pollution runs into streams. He added that they can plant “filter strips” — high grass — along stream banks. The farmers can also utilize underground drainage pipes that would divert the water into wetlands and away from the streams.

But not all farmers do this. Expense is a key reason. NPR says that the Clean Water Act exempts “normal farming practices” from compliance: plowing, for example. Could that change? It would appear unlikely in the Trump administration, which has expressed its desire to ditch rules, not to add them.

Bill Stowe, CEO of the Des Moines Water Works, told NPR that “we’re trying to regulate what comes out of the underground drainage systems beneath farm fields and empties into the waters of the state.”
One reaction has been to legislatively abolish the water board. While that is unlikely to happen, it illustrates just how intense this debate could get.
So, it circles back to starting small, and using voluntary methods. That would include such things as creating grassy buffers between the farms and the streams.

“We could and should argue about … what should be on that list,” says Cox, with the Environmental Working Group, in the NPR story. “The point is, there needs to be a list.”

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