Agricultural Pollution

Factsheets

Preventing Polluted Runoff That Causes Toxic Algae Outbreaks

Toxic algae outbreaks are more than just smelly and unsightly – they are dangerous. They can harm people, wildlife, livestock and pets. Some outbreaks are a big threat to public health and drinking water supplies. A huge toxic algae outbreak in Lake Erie in 2014 left the entire city of Toledo, 500 thousand people, without safe drinking water. Algae outbreaks are caused by many factors – but one of the biggest is runoff contaminated with fertilizer and manure from agricultural operations and farms.

Clean Water for All is working to reduce agricultural runoff by putting a spotlight on manure pollution caused by industrial animal agriculture, working with Congress and government agencies to improve federal policy on nonpoint source pollution, and increasing funding and improving effectiveness of nonpoint source programs, including Farm Bill conservation programs.

Water Pollution from Industrial Animal Agriculture

The impact of agribusiness pollution on our nation’s waterways is severe. Nutrient pollution (excess nitrogen and phosphorus) arising from agriculture and agricultural processing has contaminated drinking water, caused huge dead zones in coastal waters and turned large portions of rivers, lakes and streams across the country into a green soup of toxic algae.  Policy solutions to address nutrient pollution have neglected the impacts of industrial, confined animal agriculture to the detriment of our waterways. There are three interrelated operations of industrial agribusiness contributing to nutrient pollution: 

  1. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (known as CAFOs) producing huge volumes of manure; 
  2. cropland (often growing grain for livestock), where chemical fertilizer and manure from industrial livestock operations runs off into nearby waterways; and 
  3. slaughterhouses where livestock are processed also dump pollution directly into our waters.

Clean Water for All is working on new policy solutions that address this problem head on by tracking water pollution caused by CAFOs and slaughterhouses, improving government oversight and enforcement of CAFO pollution, curbing the practice of excess manure waste disposal onto cropland, and last but not least, supporting policies and community action to address the source of the problem by encouraging more sustainable food and farm systems.

Funding for Section 319 and Farm Bill Programs

Unfortunately, agricultural pollution is mostly classified as nonpoint source pollution, which means that it is not directly regulated by the Clean Water Act. Instead of regulating agricultural pollution directly, communities must rely on voluntary efforts to clean up waters impaired by excess nitrogen and phosphorus. Federal funding for these voluntary programs comes primarily from the Farm Bill and/or the EPA’s Section 319 nonpoint source grant program.In addition to advocating for increased funding to the 319 nonpoint source program, Clean Water for All worked together on the 2018 Farm Bill to increase funding and improve the effectiveness of USDA conservation programs for improving water quality. 

Farm Bill Priorities for a Water-Friendly 2018 Farm Bill

The 2018 Farm Bill’s Conservation Title reflected significant wins for the coalition’s priorities for clean water – it protected overall funding for the title (the House version of the bill would have cut almost $800 million in conservation funding over 10 years) and included several key provisions to improve the effectiveness of and access to conservation programs. Additionally, the bill did not include the harmful anti-environmental riders that were included in the House bill, including those that attacked critical clean water protections. The coalition played a significant role in advocating for key policy reforms and fighting back against anti-environmental riders.

While Clean Water for All did not get everything that was included in our priorities and requests to legislators, the final farm bill included significant wins for clean water and for the coalition’s priorities.

Read our letter to the Senate, on Farm Bill priorities, here.

Funding

Increase funding for the conservation title to support critical working lands, partnership, and easement programs that help to reduce nutrient pollution, protect source water, and protect water quality and availability.

Conservation Compliance

Protect the linkage between basic conservation requirements and crop insurance and ensure that Sodsaver and Swampbuster provisions stay in place to keep soil out of our waterways and protect wetlands that provide critical water storage and filtration functions.

Access

Increase access, through funding, technical assistance, and outreach, to Farm Bill conservation and related programs that put conservation tools in the hands of the people and communities who need them most.

Targeting

Encourage greater targeting of funds towards areas that need it the most and towards conservation practices that are most effective at protecting drinking water sources and water quality in the places where it is most threatened.

Conservation Outcomes

Improve measurement, reporting, and evaluation of conservation program outcomes to provide data on the impact of conservation programs and practices on water quality outcomes.

Crop Insurance and Water Quality

Create incentives for, and eliminate barriers to, water-friendly agricultural practices within the Federal Crop Insurance Program.