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Policy Considerations for Managing Agricultural Nitrogen to Reduce Groundwater Contamination in California

Image representing Policy Considerations for Managing Agricultural Nitrogen to Reduce Groundwater Contamination in California

In 2013 the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) reached consensus on a set of policy guidelines for decision-makers to inform their efforts in addressing the long-term impacts of agricultural nitrogen on groundwater. Policy Considerations for Managing Agricultural Nitrogen to Reduce Groundwater Contamination in California communicates both a set of key facts important to building policy regarding nitrate in the agricultural context, and a set of key considerations to support effective policy-making. This effort represents the best consensus among agricultural, environmental and other public interest organizations that have united around the need for collaboration to achieve an effective and coordinated policy framework.

Project: California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment

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“While working with CRWFS I have been very pleased to witness a keen and reasoned approach to California‚Äôs water dilemma, long an elephant in the room.”
Moira Burke, Farmer, Agricola: flora et fauna

Solutions

The members of the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) share an interest in meaningfully addressing water quality challenges while maintaining a healthy and prosperous agricultural sector. They recognize the serious health concerns associated with nitrate in groundwater and support existing efforts to provide communities with safe drinking water. While CRAE’s ultimate interest is in addressing the full range of water quality challenges related to agriculture and supporting improved nutrient management, they chose to focus their efforts on the longer-term challenge of reducing nitrate loading in groundwater from agricultural sources.

The resulting publication, Policy Considerations for Managing Agricultural Nitrogen to Reduce Groundwater Contamination in California, includes a set of key facts on our state of knowledge about nitrogen management, and a set of considerations to inform related policy and programs focused on improving water quality:

Key facts:

  • Nitrogen is an essential farm input
  • Nitrate can harm human health and the environment
  • Efforts can minimize contamination
  • Practices for improved nitrogen management are available
  • Beneficial management practices have limited applicability
  • Minimizing nitrate may affect other resource management goals
  • Some nitrogen loss to air or water is inevitable
  • Innovations in technologies are not keeping up with need

Key considerations:

  • Short vs. long-term policy solutions
  • Full solutions will be long term
  • Regulation must be careful to minimize risk
  • Nitrogen management should be considered hand-in-hand with other resource management challenges
  • Easy answers exist
  • Support for growers and ranchers
  • Groundwater basins differ
  • Policy must acknowledge that one size does not fit all
  • Meaningful public engagement will improve outcomesv
  • Power in collaboration

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