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Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics


Addressing Water Quality in Agriculture: Institutional Aspects and Prospects

There can be little doubt that agriculture is America's # 1 water quality challenge of the 21st Century. This is not because farms are huge polluters, but because other sources have been largely controlled and the non-point sources, of which farming is one, rise to the top of the do list. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) asserts, based on water quality sampling and other studies, that 40% of surveyed waters are still not swimmable” and agriculture is most of the problem. The institutional history of agricultural water quality management in the U.S. has emphasized mandatory measures for confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) larger than 1000 animal units and voluntary measures for non-point sources. The latter are the primary interface between farms and water in this country today. The key policy question is whether this voluntary, incentive based approach will hold up, or be replaced by a more regulatory policy regime. There are clearly pressures for the tougher approach.

By Lawrence Libby

Publication type: 
Policy brief
Date published: 
Friday, February 23, 2001