Last week, water experts marked the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act with a dire warning: After evaluating over 700,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country, they concluded that half of those waters are too polluted to fish or swim in—and agriculture is often to blame.(No paywall)
As California enters its third year of drought, pressure is mounting for lawmakers to update the state’s antiquated water laws. On Thursday, a coalition of legal experts and retired state officials released a report with a list of suggested reforms, which they say would make California’s water politics more equitable and sustainable as climate change gets worse. If implemented — a major if — many of the reforms would provide a check on the state’s massive agricultural industry, which sucks up some 80 percent of all the water used in California.
Drinking water for more than 370,000 Californians is contaminated with arsenic, nitrate, and other chemicals, according to an extensive analysis by researchers at UC Berkeley and UCLA. In many cases, the state’s agricultural industry is to blame. (No paywall)
Most water quality measures are improving in the Chesapeake Bay but the overall grade of the 64,000 square-mile watershed remains a D-plus, said the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in an annual report on Tuesday. Phosphorus and nitrogen runoff lessened in 2020 and the oxygen-depleted “dead zone” was …
Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve has paid landowners an annual rent to idle environmentally fragile land under contracts that last for 10 or 15 years. Now a pilot program will offer a 30-year contract in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay regions.
Some 1 million residents of California farmworker communities have relied for years on bottled water because their tap water is tainted with nitrate and other agricultural pollutants. Now, as stores ration water to prevent hoarding during the coronavirus crisis, these residents are relying on friends and family, or driving many miles to bigger towns in search of water, reports Liza Gross in FERN's latest story. (No paywall)
The Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, is drying up, revealing a bed packed with toxic chemicals, the residue of a century of runoff from Imperial Valley farms. Public-health experts worry that those chemicals pose a grave risk to the health of people who live nearby, mostly farmworkers, the elderly and families too poor to relocate, as Lindsay Fendt reports in FERN's latest story, published with The Weather Channel. (No paywall)
A new analysis from the Environmental Working Group reveals that state and federal testing of lakes and other bodies of water has found toxins from algae blooms in waterways in 48 states. The toxins, which sometimes make their way into drinking water supplies, can cause negative health outcomes ranging from skin rashes to serious illness or death.
Communities in Missouri have been fighting the expansion of large-scale livestock operations in the state for years. But a controversial pair of bills moving through the state legislature would make community oversight of those farms even harder. The bills would eliminate local ordinances that regulate industrial animal farms in the state, or make it impossible to enforce those ordinances. The bills mirror trends in other states where legislators have moved to undermine local control of large-scale livestock farms.(No paywall)
Timothy A. Wise spent four years researching the industrialization of agriculture and the influence of agribusiness on policy creation around the world. Everywhere he traveled, he saw how governments and philanthropies have committed to a vision of hunger eradication that heralds industrial, large-scale agriculture. His new book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food, details how this vision has largely failed to bring countries closer to food security even as it has imperiled our water, soil, and farming communities.(No paywall)
Bill Stowe, a central figure in the 2015 lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works that tried to hold drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties responsible for nutrient runoff from farms, died of cancer on Sunday at age 60. He retired as general manager of the utility on April 2 because of the illness, said the Des Moines Register.
President Trump announced a plan to roll back Obama-era clean water regulations that aimed to protect rivers and streams from agricultural runoff and other pollutants. It will remove vast wetlands and thousands of miles of waterways from federal protection.
In his new book, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, FERN contributor Ben Goldfarb makes the case that this widely vilified rodent, which was trapped nearly out of existence in the U.S., is not only making a comeback but could play a major role in mitigating the effects of climate change and other problems afflicting farmers. (No paywall)
The USDA says there is now enough room in the Conservation Reserve that, for the first time in months, it will accept applications for high-priority stewardship projects, such as filter strips, that prevent erosion and maintain water quality on fragile land. Enrollment runs from today through Aug. 17 for the practices, which require comparatively small amounts of land.
A day after the Ohio EPA declared the western end of Lake Erie to be an impaired wateryway, agency director Craig Butler said, "The time has come that we can't rely on voluntary programs" to reduce nutrient runoff that feeds algal blooms in the lake, reported Associated Press. To address the problem, the state announced a set of new proposals to reduce runoff from farms and wastewater plants.
Residents of tiny Lone Jack, MO, are fighting a proposal by a local ranch to expand its feedlot from around 600 cows to nearly 7,000. It is the latest in a series of communities pushing back against a national trend toward concentrated animal agriculture. (No paywall)
A coalition of 55 environmental, agricultural, and food-safety organizations signed a letter urging the Iowa General Assembly pass a moratorium on new and expanded factory farm development in the state. Iowa currently houses nearly 23 million hogs, a record for the state and the highest number in the country.
The algal bloom in Lake Erie this summer, fed in part by agricultural runoff, was roughly the same size as in 2013, the third-most severe bloom in 15 years of federal records, said the Associated Press.