Establishing good communication and collaboration between the water utility, farmers, regulators, and other key stakeholders is essential for effective source water protection. Using sound science to identify the problems in the source water area and to prioritize all potential contaminant sources and solutions, as well as educational outreach of the methodology and results of the prioritization analysis, are crucial for gaining support of the agricultural community.
Many CAFO operators also want to be "good neighbors" and certainly have no desire to pollute the watershed. Such proactive CAFOs may be willing to work with regulators and drinking water utilities to develop mutually beneficial partnerships. Working in harmony, reasonable communication trees can be established and sound, but cost effective, control measures put in place.
Water Utility/Agricultural Alliances - Working together for Cleaner Water addressed the benefits and means of establishing cooperative alliances between water utilities and agricultural interests (Fletcher et al., 2004). The report identifies strategies for drinking water utilities to build successful source water protection alliances with agricultural producers at the local, state, and national level.
One of the most effective means of approaching agricultural interests is through cooperation with entities that already have relationships established with the local farmers. These can include county soil and water conservation districts, cooperative extension offices, USDA NRCS offices, USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension (CREES) Service, Farm Bureau, or agricultural industry organizations. Other state and federal agencies may also be willing to provide financial and technical assistance to help 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.
Water utilities should start their approach to the local agricultural community very non-aggressively. 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 accelerate and intensify 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.
Communication with local interests is key. Foremost, farmers listen to other farmers, and then to the cooperative extension and soil conservation groups. Producers in integrated animal industries must also follow the directions provided by their corporate integrator. In many cases animal farmers also get a lot of their information from professionals who visit their operations such as veterinarians and nutritionists.
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 productivity and profitability can be very useful.