BOISE — Idaho lawmakers will be asked this year to provide up to $3.2 million that would be used by farmers to implement voluntary agricultural best management practices to improve water quality.
State funding for those types of projects was cut significantly following the recession.
The proposal that seeks the funding was developed by the Treasure Valley Water Users Association and is supported by the Idaho Water Users Association, Food Producers of Idaho and other major farm groups.
Municipalities and some industries in the state are being required to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to meet federally mandated water quality goals, said TVWUA Executive Director Roger Batt.
Farmers face no such requirement but it’s important that agriculture has skin in the game and does its part to help meet those goals, he said.
“We don’t want to be the lone industry looking like we’re not doing anything to improve water quality in the state of Idaho,” he said. “We do want to show ... that we are doing our due diligence as an industry.”
The proposal seeks $500,000 to $1.5 million for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to support farm BMPs in the Treasure Valley area of southwestern Idaho, which has the most impaired water ways in the state because of its large population.
It seeks the same amount for the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission to support ag BMPs throughout the state.
DEQ and the ISWCC would distribute the funds as matching and cost-share grants to farmers who implement measures to improve water quality.
The proposal also seeks $195,000 for DEQ for water quality monitoring.
The proposal’s precise details are still being worked out, said Rep. Tom Dayley, R-Boise, who will present it to legislators.
“We’re trying to get increased funding for more (ag-related) water quality projects in the Treasure Valley and statewide,” he said. “I think it’s important that all the components work together to improve our water quality.”
With promised matching dollars from the U.S. Geological Survey and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the proposal could result in more than $5 million in funding, Batt said.
Many Idaho communities and industries face significant financial challenges in order to meet the total maximum daily load (TMDL) requirements developed by DEQ in order to meet federal Clean Water Act standards.
Farmers face no TMDL requirements.
But if agriculture doesn’t do its part in helping the state meet its TMDL objectives, the industry could find itself in a tough position down the road when it comes to the argument over whether farmers should face TMDL requirements, Batt said.
“We don’t want to be in that position,” he said. “We want this to be voluntary for agriculture. We don’t ever want it to be mandatory.”
An FPI letter to lawmakers in support of the proposal points out that a recent TMDL objective set for the Boise River system calls for a 73 percent phosphorus reduction in agricultural return flows.
Achieving that goal would cost an estimated $100 million.
“Boise Valley farmers cannot bear this burden without state assistance,” the letter states.