United States
    Environmental Protection

Protecting Water  Quality
                       The United.States has more than
                       330 million acres of agricultural
                  land that produce an abundant supply
                  of food and other products. Ameri-
                  can agriculture is noted worldwide
                  for its high productivity, quality,
                  and efficiency in delivering goods
                  to the consumer. When improperly
                  managed however, agricultural
                  activities can affect water quality.

                  In the 2000 National Water Quality
                  Inventory,  states reported that agri-
                  cultural nonpoint source (NFS)
                  pollution is the leading source of
                  water quality impacts on surveyed
                  rivers and lakes, the second largest
                  source of impairments to wetlands,
                  and a major contributor to contami-
                  nation of surveyed estuaries and
                  ground water. Agricultural activities
                  that cause NFS pollution include
                  poorly located or managed animal
                  feeding operations; overgrazing;
                  plowing too often or at the wrong
                  time; and improper, excessive, or
                  poorly timed application of pesti-
                  cides, irrigation water, and fertilizer.
                  Agricultural pollutants that result
                  from these activities are sediment,
                  nutrients, pathogens, pesticides,
                  metals, and salts. Agricultural
                  impacts on surface  water and ground
                  water can be minimized by using
                  management practices that are
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                             runderground sources of drinking water.

                             DM you know that runoff from farms is the leading source of
                             impairments to surveyed rivers and lakes?
                             customized for local conditions.
                             Many practices designed to reduce
                             pollution also save producers money
                             in the long run.

                             There are many government pro-
                             grams available to help people design
                             and pay for management approaches
                             to prevent and control NFS pollution.
                             For example, over 40 percent of
                             section 319 Clean Water Act grants
                             have been used to control agricultural
                             NFS pollution. Also, many programs
                             funded by the U.S. Department
                             of Agriculture and states provide
                             cost-share, technical assistance, and
                             economic incentives to implement
                             NFS pollution management
                             practices. Many local organizations
                             and individuals have come together
                             to help create regional support
                             networks to adopt technologies and
                             practices to eliminate or reduce
                             water quality impacts caused by
                             agricultural activities.

                             The most prevalent source of water
                             pollution caused by farming activities
                             is soil that is washed off fields.  Rain
                             water carries soil particles (sediment)
                             and dumps them into nearby lakes
                             or streams. Too much sediment
                             can cloud the water, reducing the
                             amount of sunlight that reaches
                             aquatic plants. It can also clog the
                             gills offish or smother fish larvae.
In addition, other pollutants like
fertilizers, pesticides, and heavy
metals are often attached to the soil
particles and wash into the water
bodies, causing algal blooms and
depleted oxygen, which is deadly
to much aquatic life. Farmers and
ranchers can reduce erosion and
sedimentation by 20 to 90 percent by
applying management practices that
control the volume and flow rate of
runoff water, keep the soil in place,
and reduce soil transport.

Producers apply nutrients like
phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium
in the form of chemical fertilizers,
manure, and sludge. They may also
grow legumes and leave crop residues
to enhance production. When these
sources exceed plant needs, nutrients
can wash into aquatic ecosystems.
There they can cause algae blooms,
which reduce swimming and boating
opportunities, create foul taste
and odor in drinking water, and
kill fish by removing oxygen from
the water. High concentrations of
nitrate in drinking water can cause
methemoglobinemia, a potentially
fatal disease in infants, also
known as blue baby syndrome. To
combat nutrient losses, farmers can
implement nutrient management
plans that help maintain high yields
and save money on fertilizers.

Animal Feeding Operations
By confining animals in small areas or lots,
farmers and ranchers can efficiently feed
and maintain livestock. But these confined
areas become major sources of animal waste.
An estimated 238,000 farms and ranches
in the United States are considered animal
feeding operations, generating about 500
million tons of manure each year. Runoff
from poorly managed facilities can carry
pathogens (bacteria and viruses), nutrients,
and oxygen-demanding organics and solids
that contaminate shellfishing areas and
cause other water quality problems. Ground
water can also be contaminated by waste
seepage. An operator can limit discharges
by storing and managing facility wastewater
and runoff with an appropriate waste
management system.

Livestock Grazing
Overgrazing exposes soils, increases
erosion, encourages invasion by undesirable
plants, destroys fish habitat, and may
destroy streambanks and floodplain
vegetation necessary for habitat and water
quality filtration. To reduce the impacts
ofgrazing on water quality, farmers and
ranchers can adjust grazing intensity, keep
livestock out of sensitive areas, provide
alternative sources of water and shade, and
promote revegetation of ranges, pastures,
and riparian zones.

Irrigation water is applied to supplement
natural precipitation or to protect crops
against freezing or wilting. Inefficient
irrigation can cause water quality problems.
In arid areas, for example, where rainwater
does not carry minerals deep into the
soil, evaporation of irrigation water can
concentrate salts. Excessive irrigation can
affect water quality by causing erosion,
transporting nutrients, pesticides, and
heavy metals, or decreasing the amount
of water that flows naturally in streams
and rivers. It can also cause a buildup of
selenium, a toxic metal that can harm
waterfowl reproduction. Farmers can
reduce NFS pollution from irrigation by
improving water use efficiency. They can
measure actual crop needs and apply only
the amount of water required. Farmers may
also choose to convert irrigation systems to
higher efficiency equipment.

Insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides
are used to kill agricultural pests. These
chemicals can enter and contaminate water
through direct application, runoff, and
atmospheric deposition. They can poison
fish and wildlife, contaminate food sources,
and destroy the habitat that animals use for
protective cover. To reduce contamination
from pesticides, producers should use
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) tech-
niques based on the specific soils, climate,
pest history, and crop conditions for a
particular field. IPM encourages natural
barriers and limits pesticide use and
manages necessary applications to minimize
pesticide movement from the field.
 Related Publications

 Turn Your Home into a Storm Water Pollution Solution!
 This web site links to an EPA homeowner's guide to healthy
 habits for clean water that provides tips for better vehicle and
 garage care, lawn and garden techniques, home improvement,
 pet care, and more.

 National Management Measures to Control Nonpoint
 Source Pollution from Agriculture
 This technical guidance and reference document is for use
 by state, local, and tribal managers in the implementation of
 nonpoint source pollution management programs. It contains
 information on effective, readily available, and economically
 achievable means of reducing pollution of surface and ground
 water from agriculture.

 Nonpoint Source News-Notes
 News-Notes is a periodic newsletter that reports local, state, and
 national news on managing NPS pollution.

 National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress
 (305(b) report)
 EPA prepares this biennial report to inform the public about
 general water quality conditions in the United States. The
 document summarizes water quality data provided by states,
 territories, tribes, and others.
                       Funding Sources
                       Clean Water Act Section 319(h) funding is provided to
                       designated state and tribal agencies to implement approved
                       nonpoint source management programs.
                       Clean Water State Revolving Fund provides funding for
                       the construction of municipal wastewater facilities and
                       implementation of NPS pollution management programs and
                       estuary protection projects.
                       Environmental Quality Incentives Program offers financial,
                       technical, and educational assistance to install or implement
                       structural, vegetative, and management practices designed to
                       conserve soil and other natural resources.
                       Conservation Reserve and Conservation Reserve
                       Enhancement Programs implemented by the U.S. Department of
                       Agriculture provide financial incentives to encourage farmers and
                       ranchers to voluntarily protect soil, water, and wildlife resources.
                       :. In May 2002 President Bush signed the Farm Bill, providing
                         up'to'l 13 "BimorTior' conservatTorTprograrns 'for s Ixyea rs~
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                         This Farm Bill represents an 80 percent increase  above
                       :^^ current levels of funding available for conservation
                       $:;progfSrri'g designed to prevent polluted runoff. For more
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                                        For More Information
                                    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                                   Nonpoint Source Control Branch (4503T)
                                       1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
                                          Washington, DC 20460