(June 12, 2018) - The Senate Committee on Agriculture has released its bipartisan version of the 2018 Farm Bill, which will be marked up by the committee this week. NACWA and its Farm Bill Working Group have been actively engaging for almost a year with both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to ensure inclusion of NACWA priorities under the “Conservation Title” of the Farm Bill, many of which were included in the Senate bill.
The legislation includes several key changes and reforms under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that were sought by NACWA including:
- A streamlined application process;
- Expedited contract renewal process for projects that meet specific conditions;
- Allowing outreach and technical assistance to count towards a utilities in-kind match;
- Greater emphasis on conservation outcomes;
- New authority for the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into partnership grant agreements with eligible partners, including utilities, to address watershed concerns related to infrastructure, water quality or quantity, innovative conservation practices, and water protection strategies; and
- $200 million annually in RCPP funding—which is double the current level.
The Senate Farm Bill also includes several other provisions and funding sought by NACWA that aim to provide increased water quality through conservation efforts. Specifically, the bill incentivizes the adoption of key agricultural best management practices — such as cover crops — through increased Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) payments levels; authorizes a CSP payment for financial and technical assistance to support the development of comprehensive conservation plans; and encourages the adoption of conservation activities within CP, as well as Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), that protect sources of drinking water.
The bill also increases funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to $450 million per year by 2023. This provides additional funding to preserve working farms and ranches, and restore, protect, and enhance wetlands and grasslands through long-term easements.
Lastly, the bill requires a US Department of Agriculture review of conservation practice standards to evaluate the possibilities of increased flexibility that can help address the backlog of recognized beneficial precision conservation practices that help improve water quality.
NACWA appreciates the strong collaboration with Senators and staff on the Agriculture Committee to ensure inclusion of these key NACWA priorities that are important to the clean water sector. NACWA looks forward to continued collaboration with both the Senate and House as Congress works to advance a five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill, prior to the September 30 expiration deadline.
For more information on NACWA’s Farm Bill efforts, please contact Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus, NACWA’s Legislative Directors.