Recent actions by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seem to signal a move away from locally-led, cooperative approaches to controlling nonpoint source pollution from agriculture and toward greater federal regulation, said Trey Lam, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) in a letter sent to the members of the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation.

“We have been getting some very troubling signals from the EPA lately as to their attitude about voluntary efforts to control non-point source pollution in water,” Lam Said. “While they claim to support voluntary, locally-led cooperative programs to address water quality issues, we continue to see a shift in attitude that signals a new emphasis on additional regulation of agriculture.”

In his letter to the Oklahoma congressional delegation, Lam said that every year Oklahoma receives roughly $3 million in Clean Water Act Section 319 funds (the primary funding source for voluntary programs to address nonpoint pollution) from EPA. The dollars are used to address water quality issues tied to nonpoint source pollution, with the largest portion of these funds going toward the implementation of best management practices on private land through voluntary, locally-led means. Since 2003 Oklahoma has invested over $9 million in conservation practices in Oklahoma’s top priority watersheds, resulting in documented improvements in water quality, including a 69 percent reduction in phosphorus and nitrogen in the Peacheater Creek subwatershed of the Illinois River and a 66 percent reduction in phosphorus in the Beaty Creek subwatershed of the Eucha-Spavinaw Watershed (Tulsa’s primary water supply). Even with these successes, however, Lam said that Oklahoma has seen a general lack of support from EPA toward these types of programs.

“A perfect example of this attitude at EPA was on display at a recent Clean Water Act Section 319 manager’s conference,” Lam said. “At this conference, the discussion seemed to focus on what EPA saw as the ‘failures’ of voluntary programs and the need for more regulations. In addition, there was discussion about relying more heavily upon the EPA State Revolving Fund (SRF) Program to fund more nonpoint source work, a source of funding generally used for loans to cities to meet regulatory requirements and therefore not often accessed for voluntary cost-share programs with farmers and ranchers. This discussion, coupled with the fact that the Clean Water Act Section 319 program received no stimulus package funding despite significant boosts in other Clean Water Act (CWA) programs, and a general lack of interest by EPA headquarters to release to the press any stories about the successes seen through voluntary programs funded by 319 have led us to wonder if voluntary programs aren’t being targeted for elimination, with more regulations soon to follow.”

According to Lam, more populous, urban-centered states increasingly seem to favor regulation of nonpoint sources and have the tax base necessary to repay loans to implement nonpoint source controls through other CWA programs. EPA seems to be supportive of this position even though they profess otherwise.

“EPA headquarters continues to claim that nonpoint source pollution control and the 319 program is a priority yet we continue to hear concerns similar to ours from many other states,” Lam said. “With this in mind, we would ask our congressional delegation to take action to keep this move away from locally-led programs and toward more federal regulation from happening. Oklahoma has been a leader in showing that voluntary, locally-led, cooperative water quality efforts can work. Our challenge has been and continues to be a lack of funding, not a lack of interest by landowners in protecting our environment. We hope that our delegation can make sure that they have the tools they need to address the water quality challenges we have in this state and throughout the country without regulating them out of business.”