We all want and need clean water, so Sand County Foundation and the Environmental Policy Innovation Center are leading an effort to forge partnerships between municipalities in the Mississippi River Basin and the farmers in their watershed to improve water quality and save taxpayer dollars.
Through specially-drafted agreements, these municipal/agricultural partnerships provide an avenue for municipal water treatment plants to achieve their clean water discharge requirements by investing in conservation practices on nearby farms.
Thanks for these creative agreements, cities may be able to avoid making costly upgrades to their water treatment plants, and usually can achieve compliance at less cost. The benefits are not just economic. Relationships form between urban and rural citizens; improved water quality helps many drinking water utilities; and farm conservation practices often improve wildlife habitat, reduce flooding and improve the farm's bottom line.
With funding from the Walton Family Foundation, we secured five of these partnerships in Iowa in 2020 and 2021, and more on the horizon in other states.
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This guide breaks down the process into five clear steps, with examples to follow for each step. Focus your efforts on each step and the overwhelming concept will be more manageable: Identify the issue and project area; Develop your watershed plan; Cultivate partnerships; Engage the public; Establish your credits.
Voluntary partnerships with farmers, ranchers and other rural landowners provide some of the best possible opportunities to achieve nutrient goals collaboratively. Municipalities can incentivize landowners to implement conservation practices, and if regulators approve, the nutrient benefits from those practices can be counted toward the city or utility’s permit compliance goals.
This can be a win-win for urban and rural stakeholders within a shared watershed. Develop a partnership in your watershed with this step-by-step guide: Municipal-Agricultural Watershed Partnerships Project Guide. The guide's appendices can be found here. For the appendices table of contents, click here.
Successful frameworks for watershed collaboration need to be tailored to the unique physical and policy landscapes in Illinois and Iowa. A key step is a formal agreement between the state regulatory agency and a city to give the municipality time for its work in the watershed and certainty that the regulatory agency will correctly value the work with farmers that the city funds. We have identified 20 ways that cites and water utilities can pay for water quality improvements on farms. (View the report's executive summary here).
The federal EPA reaffirmed its support for this strategy that allows nutrient management improvements in one part of a watershed to be traded for use in another. Doing so will restore local water quality and begin to address the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone.