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Mayors Meet in Waco to Discuss Watershed Protection and Animal Waste

By Rich Anderson
October 7, 2002

Trenton (NJ) Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Augusta (GA) Mayor Bob Young welcomed participants to the Southwest Regional Watershed and Water Resources Municipal Partnership Seminar sponsored by the Urban Water Council. Mayors, farmers, and state and federal government agency representatives met to discuss managing stressed water supplies in a region with growing demand. The conference focused on how "non-point source" water dischargers can mitigate or prevent organic wastes from contributing excessive nutrients to water bodies.

Mayor Palmer's Water Stress Primer

Mayor Palmer, Co-Chair of the Urban Water Council, made the case for water supply protection through watershed planning. He commented on the stress factors facing local government responsible for providing water supplies (see inset). Planning now and in the future will be essentially different from past planning, he said. Local government officials are now talking about how they will secure future supplies in an environment of competition. No longer can we solely rely on water replenishment through annual precipitation.

Mayor Young Discusses the Conference of Mayors Watershed Organics Management Resolution

Mayor Young, co-chair of the Urban Water Council, discussed policy adopted in Madison calling for recognition of the contribution to watershed impairment from non-urban sources; and for Mayors to be active in watershed management planning. He stated the Conference supports equitable regulatory policies, and that watershed-wide organics management efforts can protect watersheds.

Mayor Young said that Mayors support the application of a broad range of technology solutions, (both centralized and on-farm facilities); federal financial assistance to animal agriculture in cost'share grants to farmers to prevent nutrient releases to water supplies; plans that include conversion of animal wastes into renewable fuel for local consumption and net metering; and the application of greenhouse gas emissions reduction credits for farmers who invest to better manage their organic waste streams.

Drought and Water Planning

Leona Dittus of the Interim National Drought Council gave an update on federal legislation to create a permanent Drought Council (S. 2528 and H.R. 4754). The legislation would create a permanent twelve-member Council, with four members from the President's Cabinet, and one to be named by The U.S. Conference of Mayors. The Council's mission is to help develop drought preparedness plans including mitigation measures, conservation strategies, and the development of innovative approaches to develop water supplies.

Protecting Water Supplies through Organics Management

Waco Mayor Linda Ethridge described the situation in Waco and the North Bosque Watershed. Lake Waco is the key local water supply for 150,000 people. Waco owns and operates the drinking water plant and is the chief local water supplier. Waco embarked on a project to increase the water supply capacity of the Lake to meet the growing demand.

Wiley Stem, Assistant City Manager, stated that seven to eight years ago, excessive phosphorous in runoff started to degrade the quality of Lake Waco water. This occurred simultaneously with the rise in area livestock farming. Roughly 50,000 head of cattle in the North Bosque were producing 2,300 tons per day of manure. A combination of manure in runoff, breaching events at some animal waste lagoons and over-irrigation of fields has contributed a portion of the 75 tons per year (tpy) of phosphorous loading into the Lake. By comparison, Stem stated that Florida's huge Lake Okeechobee estimates that the phosphorous loading is 140 tpy — nearly twice as much as Lake Waco, but Lake Waco with half the phosphorous loading is fifty times smaller in area than Lake Okeechobee.

Local Water Authority and Animal Agriculture Community Take Steps

Bob Feenstra, Executive Director of the Milk Producers Council, discussed how the Chino Basin in California has turned local controversy into cooperative action. Feenstra summarized the problems in the Chino Basin: there are about 350,000 head of cattle; the industry is an important economic activity; the cattle produce 1.4 million tons per year of manure. Seven lawsuits brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1998 against Chino livestock farmers were recently settled. One case resulted in a farming father and son being found guilty of violating the Clean Water Act and receiving a sentence to spend seven months in jail and pay a fine of $250,000.

Mr. Feenstra turned to the more positive conservation actions taken by the Milk Producers Council in conjunction with the Inland Empire Utilities Agency and Synagro Technologies, a residuals management company with animal waste technology experience. The three organizations formed a public/private partnership project to manage 225 tons per day of animal wastes via digester-to-energy projects. Feenstra enumerated the multiple benefits possible: reduced air pollution, odor controls, nutrient management, renewable energy for consumption or sale to grid, off'set of greenhouse gasses, and improved public perception of the industry. He urged animal farmers to look for ways to address environmental concerns to preserve common resources.

Ned Meister from the Texas Farm Bureau stated that the dairy industry in Texas is a major economic engine. The Bureau is working to ensure the on-going economic viability for the dairy industry by looking at different ways farmers can incorporate responsible dairy waste management.

John Cowan from Dairy Farmers of America stated that the area dairy farmers are committed to staying in the area. Cowan maintained that the central Texas dairy industry believes that properly managed manure is not a health or environmental problem. The industry, said Cowan, is taking measures to ensure that farmers are equipped to deal with this and other future challenges. One of their efforts involves a third-party certification program for the industry. The program covers the entire dairy farm operation from cradle to grave. Industry standards and best practices will be developed for farm design, herd management, finances, waste management, etc.

Phil Ford, General Manager of the Brazos River Authority (BRA) indicated that the current situation in the North Bosque has "no single source solution." He said that most of the problems can be addressed with appropriate funding. Mr. Ford stressed that the amount of funding available will influence the amount of water quantity and level of water quality attainable. Currently, the BRA is investigating the potential for technology solutions to animal waste nutrient pollution in the North Bosque. The BRA will play a key role in shaping and implementing programs to reduce nutrient pollution problems.

Federal Agencies Offer Financial Assistance for Watershed Protection

Mack Gray, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment of the US Department of Agriculture, discussed the prospects of direct aid to livestock farmers under authority of the 2002 Farm Bill for conservation measures. One program called EQIP offers federal cost share grants to farmers through the state conservationists- offices. The 2002 Farm Bill changes important components of the program. For example, the new legislation will pay up to $450,000 per farmer for improvements. The new bill also allows groups of farmers to pool their federal cost shares for centralized technology solutions.

Mr. Gray said that Congress still has to authorize the money to implement the 2002 Farm Bill. If the Congress provides full funding, the EQIP program stands to get $800 million in 2003 and $1.3 billion in 2004. The law specifies that at least 60 percent of these sums are devoted to livestock agriculture conservation funding.