EPA formed the FRRCC in 2008 to provide independent policy advice, information, and recommendations to the Agency on a range of environmental issues and policies that are of importance to agriculture and rural communities. FRRCC members include representatives from academia, industry (e.g., agriculture and allied industries), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and state, local, and tribal governments.
The past week's meeting included presentations for the Committee members on USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation programs and specific water resource-agriculture issues across the US (Great Lakes and California). Among the points presented were several directly relevant to Mississippi River Basin conservation. Specifically:
- The USDA is currently involved in discussions with the EPA and USGS (NAWQA Program) to develop a network of monitoring beyond the edge-of-field monitoring related to the NRCS Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI), and (among other things with respect to monitoring) is exploring avenues with the EPA through which 319 grant money could be provided to NGOs for the NGOs to assist with monitoring efforts.
- USDA is or will soon be focusing money and staff resources on high-priority landscapes (including the Mississippi River Basin) through Strategic Watershed Action Plans (SWATS) in an effort to improve technical assistance to farmers and landowners (See this March 16, 2011 testimony of NRCS Chief Dave White before the House Agriculture Committee where he discusses the SWAT initiative for the Chesapeake Bay - pages 6 and 7).
The FRRCC has divided itself into three workgroups to facilitate the development of the water quality report to EPA (with the target for report completion early this Fall). The three workgroups are science, partnerships and resources (resources being both human and monetary). The workgroups divided into break-out sessions and reported back to the entire committee with their results. Here are some key workgroup conclusions, which will guide their report drafting work over the next several months:
EPA should focus on several key issues:
- Models leading to standards (assure that real improvement will be achieved at the water quality standards developed through models; reduce or clarify the levels of uncertainty)
- Data and monitoring (needs to be transparent and science-based; requires adequate funding)
- Scientific evaluation and assessment of goals
- BMPs (look at science behind the measurement of success; formalize interagency coordination)
- Establishing TMDLs (see models, above)
- Scientific research
All partnership issues relate back to one and drive one fundamental issue, which is a lack of progress by all participants in achieving water quality goals.
What EPA needs to do:
- Look to past and current successful partnership efforts as models
- Utilize 319 grants, which make sense as partnership catalysts
- Data variability
- Moving targets for farm community
- Lack of comfort level among farmers
- High tensions among parties (need to be reduced to achieve progress)
- Focus resources into planned programs and in key watershed.
- Allign resources to focus on water quality-related issues at the Federal level but then allow (facilitate) the coordination of resource application at the local level.
- The coordination role-player needs to be local, trusted and be able to provide a long-term commitment (cannot be the EPA).
- Mid-level coordination can occur within the individual State Technical Committees.
Full notes and other materials from the March meeting will be posted on the FRRCC meeting page within 60 days (i.e., by early June). Past meetings' materials are posted already on that web page. The next FRRCC meeting will be on June 22-23 in the Washington, DC area, and will be open to the public.