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Amid glut of new environmental regulations, EPA praises Kansas’ watershed-restoration program

by Carolyn Orr ~ October 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
Increased environmental regulation of agriculture by the federal government is not just a perception by farmers, it is a reality. Water, dust, animal facilities, fuel tanks and pesticide spraying are the subjects of just some of the new rules set in recent years.
 
Often, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues these rules in response to lawsuits, Susan Bodine, a former EPA assistant administrator, told state lawmakers at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting in July.
Lawsuits, for example, have forced the EPA to issue nutrient standards for Chesapeake Bay and for waters in Florida; environmental groups have petitioned for similar criteria for the Mississippi River basin. In another case, an EPA exemption from the Clean Water Act was overturned after a lawsuit, thus forcing the agency to develop a permit for the use of pesticides near water.
Legal and regulatory actions are certainly nothing new in Kansas: Over the last two decades, the EPA and the state have been embroiled in multiple lawsuits by environmental groups over water quality.
But over the summer, there was a welcome change in news about water management.
After analyzing plans in place to improve water quality in 49 high-priority watersheds nationwide, the EPA gave high praise to the work being done by Kansas — in particular, the state’s plan to improve areas feeding into the lower Big Blue and Little Blue rivers.
Kansas’ success is due to a program called WRAPS, or Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy.
“It brings together everyone who shares a strong interest in restoring and protecting Kansas water sources,” says Jaime Gaggero of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “Each watershed group involves landowners, district conservation groups, community leaders and organizations that care about water.”
Local participants, who have the most at stake in ensuring water quality, are leaders in this “bottom-up” process, while Kansas State University provides specialists and economists as resources. With funding and technical assistance, the stakeholder groups first identify the needs of the watershed, then implement a cost-effective plan to protect water resources in a way that can also support food, fiber and fuel production.
While WRAPS is a formalized process, the concept began more than 15 years ago, says Kansas Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn, co-chair of the MLC Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
“When cities recognized the cost of dealing with issues like sedimentation and algae bloom in the water supply were higher than the cost of helping farmers prevent these issues, it began a natural partnership,” she says, adding that having “landowners and industrial and public water users at the same table is paramount.”
Identifying effective approaches such as WRAPS is particularly important, Gaggero says, at a time when budgets for conservation are being cut.

 

Brief written by Carolyn Orr, staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The MLC committee’s co-chairs are North Dakota Sen. Tim Flakoll and Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn.