USDA Holds 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum

USDA held its 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum this week in Arlington, Virginia (and was attended by ASDWA staff).  The title of this year’s forum was “Managing Risk in the 21st Century.”  The opening session speakers included USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber, USDA Secretary Vilsack, and Former Senator Tom Daschle.  Following are some of the key points from their presentations that should be of interest to state drinking water programs.

Joseph Glauber, USDA’s Chief Economist, spoke about the trending production and sale of U.S. crops.  He noted that U.S. crop exports and the agricultural economy are at record highs with a low debt ratio, though there is a sharp difference between types of crops being produced.  He projected that this year’s crop production is expected to increase from last year’s numbers, when we experienced extreme drought in many areas of the country.   He also projected that the use of gasoline in the U.S. will decrease, based on cars being more fuel efficient and noted that the production of ethanol experienced a slight decline last year for the first time since 2006.  In addition, the most significant change in the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) occurred in North Dakota, Montana, and some areas south of these two states where they saw a decrease in CRP enrolled acres; while other areas of the U.S. have shown slight increases or remained consistent with the previous year.

Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary of Agriculture, highlighted the uncertainty of the Federal budget and a new Farm Bill as factors that may seriously affect the future of USDA’s programs.  He noted that the Department is focused on managing risk from both the likelihood of budget cuts and weather-related events such as drought that will affect its ability to provide financial security and disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers.  He also noted that half a million producers are engaged in conservation, which is a record high.  USDA is looking at barriers and insurance considerations for increasing conservation.  The Department is providing assistance to producers for using no-till, double cropping, cover crops, and other practices to decrease the use of nitrogen and increase crop yields; providing Conservation Innovation Grants to help farmers use new technologies and approaches to address natural resource concerns; and working with farmers in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to improve water-use efficiency measures for growing more crops with less water.  In addition, Vilsack shared the Department’s intentions to implement the goals of its Climate Change Adaptation plan including:  working with partners to develop a web portal on climate and weather; develop a U.S. Forest Service management plan; develop a roadmap for farmers and ranchers to reduce risk; improve outreach; and support research.

Former Senator Tom Daschle shared his thoughts about national and global food security, and its links to energy and economic security, as populations and food demand continue to rise rapidly.  He highlighted the need for global solutions, private sector development, new technologies and innovation, and bio-engineered crops to sustain food supplies and nutrition.  In addition, Daschle noted the need for precision farming solutions such as efficient fertilizer use and water conservation, as well as the need to connect people with their food — where it comes from and how it is produced.

For more information about USDA’s efforts and programs, go to:  www.usda.gov.

EPA Releases Preparing for Extreme Weather Events: Workshop Planner for the Water Sector

Calendar year 2012 was the second most expensive year on record for extreme events, and it’s expected that events like these will occur more frequently and with greater intensity. These events, such as Hurricane Sandy and the continuing prolonged period of drought that, at its peak, found about 65% of the country in drought conditions, can have devastating impacts to drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities. It’s important that utilities identify what actions they can be taking today to better prepare for these events.

EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities (CRWU) initiative has just released its Preparing for Extreme Weather Events: Workshop Planner for the Water Sector (Workshop Planner) to help utilities plan for extreme events. The Workshop Planner provides all of the materials needed to plan, conduct, and facilitate an adaptation planning workshop on five extreme event scenarios: Floods, Drought, Wildfire, Sea Level Rise, and Reduced Snowpack.

The Workshop Planner takes the guesswork out of the design process, allowing a user to successfully conduct and facilitate a workshop without outside assistance. These workshops create a forum to openly discuss extreme event adaptation while bringing utility and community partners together. By the end of the workshop, all participants will have developed actions that can be taken immediately to become better prepared for and more resilient to extreme events.

Download the Workshop Planner today at http://epa.gov/climatereadyutilities (see the Tools and Resources tab). For questions or feedback, please contact CRWUhelp@epa.gov.

Source Water Cost vs. Protection Documents, HAB Resources, and More Now Available on ASDWA’s Web Site

Visit ASDWA’s Source Water Protection, Nutrient Pollution, and Sustainability web site pages for some new and good information that states should find helpful for managing and protecting source water and public health.

The Source Water Protection web page includes new useful documents under “Important Tools and Resources,” as follows:

  • Costs of Water Supply Contamination vs. Protection:  These documents were collected by the State of Washington in response to an October 2012 survey on this topic.
    • State of Michigan – Information about various water system costs associated with having to develop alternative water supply sources due to high levels of nitrate and other contaminants.
    • Lake Springfield, Illinois – Article in Fall 2011 issue of “Lakeline” that documents the costs of working with agricultural producers to reduce sediment and the costs of water systems to remove atrazine.
    • State of Maine – A 1993 Study (that is still relevant) on “The Costs of No Wellhead Protection in Maine:  The Costs of Cure vs. Prevention,” that includes documented water system costs for addressing a variety of contamination problems.

Visit ASDWA’s Nutrient Pollution web page and scroll down to “State Information” where you will find information from a number of states about nitrate risks and occurrence, and links to state web sites with helpful information and resources on Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), as well as state response strategies and water system treatment recommendations.

On the Source Water Sustainability and Climate Change page, you will find new “State Examples” about Massachusetts’ Sustainable Water Management Initiative and Virginia’s Water Resources Plan.

While you are visiting, be sure to check out the many other great resources and links on these web pages that are useful for states.  If you have any questions, or have additional resources you would like to post, please contact Deirdre Mason of ASDWA at dmason@asdwa.org or 703-812-4775.