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 *Source Water Protection

Presented below are some of the more notable recommendations developed during this study for drinking water utilities to assess potential impacts of AFOs and CAFOs on their source water quality, and for planning and implementing appropriate, successful and affordable courses of action for protecting their source water from contamination from CAFO facilities and other farms.

  • Water utilities are encouraged to perform comprehensive source water assessments. All potential waste sources should be considered for assessment and prioritization, not just CAFOs, including the rest of the agricultural sector (including poorly managed farms of any type) and any other land uses in the source water area.
  • All source waters should have had a SWAP report prepared under requirements of the 1996 SDWA. Depending on the quality and thoroughness of that SWAP report or other related assessments, utilities may wish to conduct additional study and monitoring.
  • At minimum, water utilities should know if there are CAFOs in their source water area, and whether these operations have an adverse impact on source water quality.
  • For utilities concerned with actual or potential pollution from AFOs, they should identify the location and characteristics of AFOs and CAFOs in their source water areas, determine if these facilities pose a risk to source water quality, develop a prioritized plan of action for addressing key issues, and implement the components of the protection plan.
  • As with any source water protection program, utilities should use a multiple-barrier approach. This can include source water assessment, monitoring, stakeholder alliances, outreach and education, and encouraging effective BMPs at nearby priority AFOs.
  • Periodic reevaluation of source water assessments and of source water protection program action priorities and success will help ensure the program is achieving the optimal benefits.
  • AFO operators will be more willing to cooperate if they can be shown through sound science that their operations and actions do have an adverse impact on a water source, and that if they take the appropriate corrective measures it will produce reasonable and measurable improvement in source water quality. A sound source water assessment that analyzes the relative contributions of potential pollutant sources in a source water area can go a long way toward providing the scientific evidence necessary to effectuate change in land use practices. Utilities can help themselves by using the right experts and expertise to perform sound scientific assessments.
  • Hydraulic and contaminant transport modeling of watersheds or groundwater can be used to more fully potential impacts from priority contaminant sources. Modeling can also be used to assess the anticipated general effect of possible BMPs and to prioritize actions. Assessments and data showing agricultural impacts on source water quality should be locally and regionally based in order to be more convincing to local and regional agricultural interests.
  • Monitoring of source water quality is important for identifying potential pollutant problems and sources (to target protection efforts), and for verifying the effectiveness of source water protection programs (including monitoring the effectiveness of BMPs at AFOs). Many monitoring programs target both dry and wet (storm event) sampling of their source water and upstream locations, as the primary pollutant source may vary depending on the amount and recent frequency of rainfall and runoff, the amount of fixed discharges (e.g., public sewage treatment plants), and other factors.
  • For some utilities, monitoring combined with treatment may a sufficient approach. Monitoring programs are used as a primary intake water protection measure by many utilities that have no other means of controlling outside activities in their source water area, including utilities drawing source water from major rivers with extensive watersheds.
  • Concerned water utilities should work with AFOs and CAFOs, and also with their regulators and other agricultural stakeholders, to make sure BMPs are employed to limit the generation of contaminants and to limit and control contaminant releases from the AFO processes. Water utilities can support development and implementation of whole farm plans and nutrient management plans.
  • Establishing good communication and collaboration between the water utility, farmers, regulators, and other key stakeholders is essential for effective source water protection, and can not be overemphasized. One of the most effective means for concerned water utilities to approach agricultural interests is through cooperation with entities that already have relationships established with the local farmers, such as county soil and water conservation districts, cooperative extension offices, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offices, and other related organizations. Working through local agricultural and watershed stakeholder organizations and coalitions generally builds trust better than when utilities initially approach farms and the agricultural community on their own. Other state and federal agencies may also be willing to provide financial and technical assistance to help alliances improve water quality. Water utilities should take advantage of these resources, rather than try to do all the work on their own. This is both a more effective and more economical approach.
  • Another group of potential partners not to overlook are other water systems and municipalities in the source water area that would also benefit and could contribute additional resources and responsibilities for assessments and corrective measures in the watershed. These other utility partners should be involved in discussions with farmers, regulators, and other stakeholders that are part of your team.
  • Water utilities should start their approach to the local agricultural community very non-aggressively. Utilities will also need to demonstrate understanding of the AFO operators' concerns. Trust must be established before changes in farm operational practices are likely to be made. When utilities push too hard and too fast, they sometimes meet with all the much greater resistance. Every watershed is different, and utilities need to learn who the effective players are in their area. Utilities need to identify what lines of communications are most beneficial.
  • Always try to find win-win scenarios with the local farmers. Approach the farms asking what you can do to help them, as opposed to telling the farmers what to do. Emphasize the benefits that both their farms and the environment will realize from the suggested improvements in farm operations. Also realize that the first question will usually be who will fund the suggested BMP improvements. Providing incentives such as funding for BMP implementation or identification of measures that can increase farm profitability can be very useful.
  • A common obstacle to improvement of agricultural operations for protecting drinking water source quality is funding. Many successful case studies have shown some type of cost-sharing to be effective. Proactive water utilities can work with farmers and other stakeholders to find funding for a variety of agricultural source water protection projects. Knowledge of these potential funding sources, as well as good relationships with stakeholder organizations that are experienced as gaining related funding, can greatly help a water utility to gain cooperation of the farms in their source water area.
  • Individual education at the farmer's facilities can be highly effective, as it allows for direct assessment and discussion about the practices conducted at that farm, and many proactive water utilities have programs for this. Farmer involvement in development of their Whole Farm Plans and Nutrient Management Plans leads to a better understanding and acceptance of what they can and should do. Some water utilities, such as Tulsa (Oklahoma) and Springfield (Missouri), support demonstration farms that are used to showcase various agricultural BMPs, and educate farmers as to more beneficial approaches.
  • One water utility strategy that is particularly well suited to situations where AFO wastes and other contaminants are possibly present in surface waters is to replace traditional surface water intakes with wells and other subsurface collection systems located adjacent to the surface water source. These systems, typically referred to as riverbank filtration, use the subsurface media between the source and groundwater well to remove a variety of contaminants, including microbial pathogens, organic contaminants (including taste and odor causing substances and DBP precursors), hormones, endocrine disruptors, turbidity, and other substances.