12.03.14

Chairwoman Stabenow: Our Generation Has the Urgent Responsibility to Conserve, Protect Fresh Water

Stabenow Examines Ways for Farmers, Ranchers to Address Water Quality Issues through Voluntary Conservation Programs

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said that farmers and ranchers need to take advantage of public-private partnerships and programs meant to improve water quality in our lakes, rivers, and streams. Stabenow said the agriculture industry has already become a part of the solution when it comes to solving the crisis surrounding water quality. Farmers and ranchers have the ability to take steps to improve their management practices through voluntary conservation programs that were significantly bolstered in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Water quality, or the pollution of water by nutrients, animal waste and soil erosion, is a national issue and agriculture has an important role to play in maintaining and improving water quality in watersheds affected by farming operations. USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service has a number of programs that can help farmers address water quality and give farmers the correct tools to implement conservation activities that reduce their footprint on the environment.

“No group understands the importance of water and soil quality more than our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” said Chairwoman Stabenow. “Agriculture has played a critical role since the 1985 Farm Bill, when Congress first created the conservation title. Our farmers want to be part of the solution, and they are, which is why we made conservation such a focus in the 2014 Farm Bill.”
 
Stabenow’s comments came during a hearing that’s part of a larger effortto find collaborative solutions to address water quality issues across the country. Sen. Stabenow pointed to the Great Lakes, where a toxic algae bloom was discovered earlier this year that prevented communities in Southeast Michigan and Northern Ohio from drinking or using their tap water.
 
“This has long been an issue for those of us who live near the Great Lakes,” added Chairwoman Stabenow. “We got a stark wake-up call this summer when the Greater Toledo area couldn’t drink their water, couldn’t use water to cook, couldn’t wash their hands, or brush their teeth, or take a shower because the water was contaminated with toxins from a serious algae bloom in Lake Erie.”
 
Witnesses who testified at today’s hearing include Hon. D. Michael Collins, Mayor, City of Toledo, Toledo, OH; Dr.Marty D. Matlock, Executive Director, Office for Sustainability, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR; Mr. Sean McMahon Executive Director, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Ankeny, IA; Ms. Kristin Weeks Duncanson Owner/Partner, Duncanson Growers, Mapleton, MN; Ms. Trudy D. Fisher Former Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Ridgeland, MS and Mr. Jason Weller, Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC.

An archived webcast of today’s hearing can be viewed on the Committee’s website at http://ag.senate.gov. Additional materials, including testimony, can be found on the hearing page here. Below are Chairwoman Stabenow’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery.


Opening Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

December 3, 2014: “Farmers and Fresh Water: Voluntary Conservation to Protect our Land and Waters”

Good morning and thank you for joining us today for this very important hearing. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will now come to order.

Among earth’s natural resources, water is fundamental to human survival.

And right now, we have a water crisis in our country that operates on two fronts.

The one most people tend to talk about is a crisis in water quantity – and we certainly see this right now in California where the drought is one of the worst in its history.

And the second – the focus of today’s hearing – is a crisis around water quality.

This has long been an issue for those of us who live near the Great Lakes.

And we got a stark wake-up call this summer when the Greater Toledo area – with a population nearly as large as Washington, DC – couldn’t drink their water, couldn’t use water to cook, couldn’t wash their hands, or brush their teeth, or take a shower because the water was contaminated with toxins from a serious algae bloom in Lake Erie.And I’m glad the Mayor of Toledo is able to join us today to talk about what happened there this summer.

Coming from Michigan, I feel a strong connection to the Great Lakes. All my life I have seen how they sustained our economy – from manufacturing to agriculture to tourism.

The lakes are where we work, and where we play.

They are part of our identity and our lifestyle.

Scientists tell us those lakes were created during an Ice Age some 15,000 years ago – a thawing that coincided with the discovery of agriculture.

Today the Great Lakes provide 84 percent of North America’s surface freshwater.

This vital resource has passed from generation to generation.

Just as generations of Americans have relied on the waters of the Mississippi River, the Chesapeake Bay and so many others.

And yet our generation has the most urgent responsibility to conserve those waters.
If we are going to solve this, we have to take action on climate change.

And we have to look at the nutrients going into our lakes, rivers and streams.

Our farmers want to be part of the solution, and they are, which is why we made conservation a priority in the 2014 Farm Bill.

While there is no single solution, no silver bullet that will resolve this crisis, we know that working together and sharing our knowledge will help us to develop strategies capable of making a broad impact on the quality of our water.

Our panel of speakers has been assembled with that goal in mind.

Considering that 1.5 million jobs are directly connected to the Great Lakes, our workers and our economy cannot afford another disaster on a scale of the one in Western Lake Erie.

No group understands the importance of water and soil more than our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture has played a critical role since the 1935 Farm Bill, when Congress created the Soil Conservation Service in response to the Dust Bowl.

The 2014 Farm Bill represents the largest investment yet in the conservation of private working lands critical to maintaining not just clean water, but clean air, wildlife habitats, forests and other natural resources.

We expanded the role of partnerships, so that farmers can team with university researchers, the private sector, conservation organizations and all levels of governments to find creative solutions to improving water quality.

We know that farming is one of the riskiest businesses in the world – and farmers cannot gamble on the future of their access to clean water.

Neither can we as consumers.

In his 1746 version of Poor Richard’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin said: “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”

We have two excellent panels here with us this morning and I look forward to all of your testimony as we begin this important discussion.