While agricultural producers spend a fair amount of time thinking about water quality and quantity, they’re usually focused on irrigation and grazing management systems. New incentives from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) could now direct more attention to the kitchen tap.
The 2018 Farm Bill placed a priority on protecting drinking water sources through conservation programs and authorized NRCS to work with communities to identify state/local priorities. A working group composed of Virginia NRCS staff and conservation partners developed a plan that identified state Source Water Protection Areas (SWPAs) and core practices to address associated resource concerns.
“We launched the Virginia program in 2019 with the cities of Luray and Woodstock as pilot SWPAs,” said Stacey Bradshaw, a Farm Bill programs manager for Virginia NRCS. “Last year, we worked with EPA, the Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Drinking Water, TetraTech and the Ground Water Protection Council to select more than 100 additional watersheds for FY2021.”
The 106 designated SWPAs are concentrated in, but not limited to, locations traditionally associated with agriculture. The focal area includes about seven percent of Virginia’s total land mass. Landowners participating in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) can get higher payment rates for adopting core practices designed to reduce streambank erosion and nitrate runoff from agricultural operations. (Click on the link above to view the full list of 24 eligible practices.).
“An increased payment rate up to 90 percent is available for livestock, cropland and forestry operations,” says Bradshaw. “Participating landowners whose operations are located in SWPAs will also receive a higher ranking for their applications than they have in the past.”
Bradshaw recommends that landowners consult with their local NRCS office before filing or renewing any application for the agency’s EQIP or Conservation Stewardship (CSP) programs to make sure they are taking advantage of all available financial assistance.