SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER BASIN CONSERVATION ACT
GENERAL FARM COMMODITIES, RESOURCE
CONSERVATION, AND CREDIT
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 13, 2000
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Serial No. 10660
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
LARRY COMBEST, Texas, Chairman
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska,
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
HELEN CHENOWETH-HAGE, Idaho
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
KEN CALVERT, California
GIL GUTKNECHT, Minnesota
BOB RILEY, Alabama
GREG WALDEN, Oregon
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ERNIE FLETCHER, Kentucky
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, Minnesota
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMARION BERRY, Arkansas
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
DEBBIE STABENOW, Michigan
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
CHRISTOPHER JOHN, Louisiana
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
KEN LUCAS, Kentucky
MIKE THOMPSON, California
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
JOE BACA, California
WILLIAM E. O'CONNER, JR., Staff Director
LANCE KOTSCHWAR, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
KEITH WILLIAMS, Communications Director
Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska, Chairman
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio,
NICK SMITH, Michigan
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, MN,
Ranking Minority Member
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
C O N T E N T S
H.R. 4013, To establish a cooperative effort of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of interior to reduce sediment and nutrient loss in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.
Barrett, Hon. Bill, a Representative in Congress from the State of Nebraska, opening statement
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Minge, Hon. David, a Representative in Congress from the State of Minnesota, opening statement
Gutknecht, Hon. Gil, a Representative in Congress from the State of Minnesota
Hirsch, Robert, Associate Director for Water, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior
Kind, Hon. Ron, a Representative in Congress from the State of Wisconsin
Stoerker, Holly, executive director, Upper Mississippi River Basin Association
Weber, Thomas A., Deputy Chief, Programs, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER BASIN CONSERVATION ACT
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2000
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities,
Resource Conservation, and Credit
Committee on Agriculture,
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:02 p.m., in room 1300 of the Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bill Barrett (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Lucas, Minge, and Phelps.
Staff present: David Ebersole, senior professional staff; Wanda Worsham, clerk; Callista Gingrich, Hunter Moorhead, and Anne Simmons.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BILL BARRETT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEBRASKA
Mr. BARRETT. The hearing of the General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit Subcommittee will come to order to examine H.R. 4013, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act. The meeting will now please come to order.
Today, the subcommittee meets to learn a little more about H.R. 4013, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act, which is a bill introduced by Congressman Kind, Mr. Gutknecht, and eight or nine other members of the House this past spring. The bill, I understand, currently has 40 cosponsors. H.R. 4013 was referred to this committee and the Committee on Resources, which held a hearing on the bill in July of this year. As we all know, the full committee held 10 field hearings around the country this year in preparation for a new farm bill, which may be considered early in the next Congress. Conservation issues certainly will be at the top of most everyone's list of necessary titles to any new farm legislation.
The 1996 farm bill was roundly applauded by farmers and conservationists alike as being a good conservation bill, but certainly, more can always be done. Finding the necessary funds will always be a factor, especially, during down times in the farm economy such as the days we are experiencing now. H.R. 4013 uses and expands on USDA's current conservation programs, such as the CRP, the WRP, the EQIP program, Wildlife Habitat incentive programs, but there are a lot of questions concerning how these programs may be used more effectively in the future. For example, the Secretary continues to leave CRP authorities on the shelf. The continuous CRP has not been as successful as many thought it might be. In a lot of areas of the country, farmers and ranchers have found EQIP to be less than billed. In addition, the privacy concerns of farmers and ranchers who take part in these programs also needs to be addressed in any new farm bill.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So this committee certainly has its work cut out for it beginning next year, and I look forward to the testimony this afternoon, and would recognize at this point the ranking member of the subcommittee, the gentleman from Minnesota, Mr. Minge, for any comments he might like to make. Mr. Minge.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. DAVID MINGE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
Mr. MINGE. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for scheduling this hearing. I believe that this is very important legislation. I am one of the cosponsors, and I compliment the two Members that are going to testify shortly for their leadership in this legislation. I share with them the recognition that improved water quality in the Upper Mississippi is a national priority. We have millions of people that live in this basin that use the Mississippi River for means of transportation, for drinking water, for recreation, and a variety of other purposes. Water quality and efforts to improve water quality are a national concern, and I believe that we should accord this high priority and that we should recognize that we must move ahead as a nation if we are to meet our stewardship responsibilities to the next generation.
The only point where sometimes there is some disagreement is which parts of the Upper Mississippi Basin are the most deserving, and perhaps Mr. Gutknecht and I would agree that the Minnesota River Basin, which is a major tributary which we share in terms of our two congressional districts, meets that definition. And we just wish that part of that basin was in Wisconsin, and then we think that Mr. Kind would recognize that portion of the Upper Basin at the top of the list. But notwithstanding such rivalries between various geographic areas, I think that we can all agree that we ought to coordinate our efforts and work as a team to see legislation such as this implemented. Thank you very much.
Mr. BARRETT. We will proceed with our two opening witnesses, the gentleman from Minnesota, Mr. Gutknecht; and the gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Kind. Mr. Gutknecht.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF HON. GIL GUTKNECHT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
Mr. GUTKNECHT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, I want to commend you and the staff for arranging for today's hearing. I appreciate the opportunity to share with you what I consider to be a very worthy conservation proposal, a measure which would establish as a national priority the challenge of reducing nutrient and soil sediment loss in the Mississippi River and many streams within the watershed.
As Mr. Minge said, the Upper Mississippi really is a national treasure. And let me just talk about that for a moment, because I think sometimes we easily forget that. I would love to have members of the subcommittee or anyone who is interested come to that area, especially, right after Thanksgiving, and you will you see two things that really are a national treasure. First of all, you will see migrating bald eagles; and you know, there are an awful lot of Americans who have never seen wild bald eagles. And near a little town of Wabasha, MN, you will be able to see more bald eagles. As they migrate, many of them stay along the banks of the river there for the entire winter because the river stays open. You will be able to see them in their natural habitat, and it really is an amazing sight to see them.
The other thing that comes through in the Upper Mississippi Basin there are the migrating tundra swan, and it is an amazing thing to see them. They are huge white birds, they are so beautiful. And we will have anywhere from 10 to 30,000 of those swan that will come through, and they will store up some fat. They feed there in the Upper Mississippi for a couple of weeks; usually, around Thanksgiving. And you can see both of those sites within about 10 miles of the city of Wabasha, MN. So I advise you to come sometime, because it really is a national treasure. And it seems to me that we have a moral obligation to future generations of Americans to make certain that we protect that treasure.
The great thing about this proposal is it encourages various groups to work together. And it was underscored to me a couple of months agoI had a meeting with some of the people at the Southern Minnesota Experimental Station in Waseca, which is a division of the University of Minnesota, and we began talking about water resources in the Minnesota River and the Mississippi River, and some of the other things that were being talked about in terms of protecting water supplies. And it struck me as almost unbelievable that we have a project in Onalaska, WI that I have been a strong supporter of as well, called the Environmental Management Program, the EMP. And the people at the Southern Minnesota Experimental Station in Waseca had never even talked to the people at EMP. So the idea of trying to bring various agencies together to get them to work together, to share information so that we are all working on the same pageand I think we, basically, all do have the same goal, and that is to protect our water resources.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Mississippi River really is America's River. It is important from an environmental standpoint, it is important from a recreational standpoint, but it is also extremely important from a transportation standpoint. For our farmers in the upper Midwest, if we do not have access to the Mississippi River, to move our grain up and down the river, we will see dramatically depressed prices for our farmers. So many times, we have approached these kinds of discussions from a win-lose perspective; either farmers win and the environment loses or vice versa. And frankly, I do not think it has to be that way. I think we can create programs, and I think we can create the kind of atmosphere here in Washington that we have with the Environmental Management Program, which really is a win-win-win situation. It is a win for the environment, it is a win for the people who need the river for transportation, and it is also a win in terms of recreational uses for the Upper Mississippi River.
And so in conclusion, Mr. Chairman and members, I do appreciate this hearing, and I really want to say a very special thank you to my colleague from Wisconsin, Congressman Ron Kind, who really has done most of the heavy lifting on this. I really do believe as we go forward and look at next year, as we begin to put the farm bill together, I think this basic notion ought to be incorporated in the farm bill, because conservation is something I think we can all agree, and if we can get the various entities to work together towards common goals on a voluntary basis, I think our farmers want to be part of the solution. And altogether too often, they are framed as being only part of the problem. And again, I think this is the right attitude. I think it is the right approach. It certainly deserves serious consideration by this subcommittee and the entire Congress. And as I say, I hope at the end of the day when we put the farm bill together next time, that this kind of a concept will be incorporated.
So with that, I would yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much, Mr. Gutknecht. Mr. Kind, will you please top that sterling testimony.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF HON. RON KIND, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF WISCONSIN
Mr. KIND. It will be difficult, Mr. Chairman, but we will certainly try. And I do have a written statement, and I would ask unanimous consent that it be included in the record at this time.
Mr. BARRETT. Without objection, certainly.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Kind follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. RON KIND, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF WISCONSIN
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to address the General Farm Commodities, Resource Conservation, and Credit Subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee about H.R. 4013, The Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act. The purpose of this legislation is to reduce sediment and nutrient losses into the Upper Mississippi River from the surrounding landscape. Over the last year I have worked with farmers, the navigation industry, sporting groups, conservation organizations, and Government agencies throughout the region to come up with an effective, basin-wide, and non-regulatory approach to dealing with this increasingly serious problem.
The Upper Mississippi River systemwhose tributaries and basin encompass much of the landmass of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouriis one of our Nation's great multi-use natural resources. In 1995, shippers transported 126 million tons of cargo on the system's 1300 commercially navigable miles. This system remains vitally important for moving the region's agricultural commodities to markets across the globe. Twenty-two million Americans rely on the river and its tributaries for drinking water. Forty percent of North America's waterfowl use the wetlands and backwaters of the river as a migratory flyway. The Upper Mississippi River basin provides $1.2 billion annually in recreation income and $6.6 billion to the area's tourism industries. A healthy Upper Mississippi River increases benefits for all users of the system.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Unfortunately, soil erosion and nutrient loading threaten the health of the river system and the vast agricultural, industrial, and recreational activities it supports. Sediment fills the main shipping channel of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, costing over $100 million each year to dredge. Soil erosion reduces the long-term sustainability and income of the family farms, with farmers losing more than $300 million annually in applied nitrogen. This affects farm income at a time when we have a crisis in rural America.
As lawmakers, we must move beyond our current, after-the-fact damage repair efforts and develop cost-effective measures to reduce sediment and nutrients from entering the river in the first place. We need to recognize that these water quality and land conservation problems cross traditional State and administrative boundaries. Solving them requires a coordinated approach between the Federal, State, and local agencies working throughout the five-State basin. H.R. 4013which currently has 40 cosponsors from 20 States and territories-proposes a comprehensive approach to reducing nutrient and soil sediment losses in the Upper Mississippi River basin. In order to make cost-effective conservation decisions, it is imperative that we develop sound scientific information about the problem of polluted runoff. H.R. 4013 authorizes the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)-a science-based, non-regulatory agencyto work with other agencies and non-governmental groups to develop a basin-wide sediment and nutrient monitoring network. USGS would expand their own monitoring activities, coordinate and integrate existing monitoring efforts, develop guidelines for data collection and storage, and establish an electronic database system to store and disseminate information. To put this information to work, H.R. 4013 directs the USGS to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other pertinent Federal, State, and local agencies to establish a state-of-the-art computer modeling program to identify runoff ''hot spots'' in the basin.
H.R. 4013 seeks an alternative to the traditional regulatory approach to environmental protection. Information obtained through the USGS's monitoring and modeling program will be used to implement four highly successful U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs: the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). These USDA programs, which are voluntary and incentive-based, have multiple benefits: direct rental payments to farmers, reductions in commodity surplus production, retirement of marginally productive land, expansion of wildlife habitat, and improved water quality. There is a pressing need for higher authorization levels for these programs, which have many more applicants than the USDA can accommodate under current enrollment limits. H.R. 4013 includes strong protections for the privacy of personal data collected and used in connection with monitoring, modeling, and technical and financial assessment activities.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC H.R. 4013 also recognizes the need for continued research into methods of controlling erosion and runoff. The legislation establishes a grant program to support ''model farms'' and innovative practices designed to reduce sediment and nutrient loss. In more general terms, it enables the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into cooperative agreements that would advance the goals of reducing farm field runoff. This component of the legislation will advance the efforts of many States, including my home State of Wisconsin, to develop new technologies and farming practices aimed at improving both productivity and environmental quality.
Basin-scale conservation work requires extensive communication and cooperation between citizens, government officials, and other stakeholders. To facilitate this work, H.R. 4013 creates a fifteen-person citizens advisory council and an interagency working group. The citizens advisory council will seek input from farmers and local conservation districts about methods and priorities for reducing sediment and nutrient losses and formulate recommendations for the implementing agencies. The interagency working group will coordinate efforts between USDA, USGS, and other participating agencies.
In summary, H.R. 4013 calls for a comprehensive and incentive-driven approach to reducing sediment and nutrient losses in order to prevent damage from occurring to the river system and to improve the economic and environmental health of the basin as a whole. The benefits of the programs authorized in this bill would extend far beyond the five State region, both because it calls for Nation-wide increases in USDA land conservation programs and because nutrients and sediments from the Upper Midwest have impacts all the way down the Mississippi and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. I see this legislation as a pilot for future watershed and basin programs in other parts of the Nation.
Far too often, our Nation's farmers and landowners seek to do the right thing but are overwhelmed by the proliferation of agencies and programs that address agricultural conservation issues. This legislation seeks a comprehensive and coordinated approach to nutrient and sediment reduction efforts. Such an approach, I believe, is long overdue and will have the greatest positive benefits for our farmers and the environment and will do so without creating any new Federal regulations.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. KIND. I would just like to take a few moments just to talk to you, generally, about the overall concept of the bill. First of all, I want to thank the chairman, and the staff, the ranking member for holding this hearing on what we think is a very important piece of legislation affecting one of the most important national treasures that we haveAmerica's River Basin, the Mississippi River Basin. And as the chairman recognized in the earlier statements, it has received wide bipartisan support. Over 40 Members of Congress are cosponsoring the legislation, six of whom sit on the Agriculture Committee, including our friends from Illinois, Mr. Phelps; Mr. Minge is cosponsoring it as well. And what it does, basically, is it forms a public-private partnership, and it takes a comprehensive holistic approach to the Mississippi River Basin. Mr. Minge chided me earlier in regard to the importance of the Minnesota River, but really, what this legislation recognizes is you cannot look at the River Basin in a segmented way, that we are all in this together; that if Minnesota and Wisconsin does not get it right, it is going to adversely affect Illinois, and Missouri, and Mississippi, and Arkansas, and Louisiana, and all the entire water basin area. And so we felt it was necessary to move forward on a comprehensive watershed based piece of legislation, with the overall goal of trying to reduce the amount of sedimentation loss and nutrient loss that our farmers are experiencing. And we thought we would start in the Upper Mississippi Region, realizing that if we can get it right there, good things are going to flow south from the program and, hopefully, be able to expand the program to include the entire Mississippi River Basin and the watershed area, which is really quite expansive when you take a look at the drainage area affecting the Mississippi. Basically, you are talking everything west of the Appalachians and east of the Rocky Mountains. And what the legislation will do, in essence, is two major things. One is put in place, finally, good science for monitoring and modeling purposes and water quality testing. And one of the key components in doing that, and the second most important feature in the legislation is the use and the expansion of already existing land conservation programs, which we think have been working extremely well, but we see a greater need for participation in the programs that exist right now, and that is why we are calling for the expansion of the four major land conservation programs that we are proposing in the legislation.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What I brought with me today for the committee's review, a picture of what the Mississippi Basin really looks like and the close proximity that it really has on the agricultural way of life that we have and we are very proud of in the Upper Mississippi Region. But it also speaks to the need of why we need to work in collaboration with private landowners and producers in order to create the incentives and have the voluntary programs in place so they can participate in trying to reduce the loss of sedimentation from their lands, which has an adverse economic impact on farmers, the loss of nutrients that they apply on their land. Every year, it has been estimated that farmers across the country lose approximately $300 million in applied nitrogen due to farm runoff, and we are losing valuable topsoil every year as well. And yet, we have land conservation programs specifically geared in order to try to retain this for optimal economic benefit to the producers, and that is really what we are trying to accomplish.
My friend from Minnesota, Mr. Gutknecht, whom I have enjoyed working with on this legislation, I think, really highlighted the importance of the river very, very well. The economic impact that the River Basin brings to the upper Midwest alone is tremendous. The Mississippi is a major commercial navigation waterway for farmers to get their product to market, and it will continue as such, so there is a direct interest that commercial navigation has in being able to preserve and protect this natural resource.
We have about a $6.6 billion tourism impact in the Mississippi River Basin every year in the upper Midwest, roughly $1.2 billion in recreation use every year. It is North America's largest migratory route, with roughly 40 percent of the waterfowl species that migrate south for the winter passing through the Mississippi River corridor. Representative Gutknecht mentioned the tundra swans and the eagles, but you are talking virtually every waterfowl species in North America passes through this corridor at some point during the migratory season. And it is also the primary drinking water source of over 22 million Americans. So I think it is self-evident the importance that this River Basin really plays for the health and sustainability of middle-America.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The reason why we have the breadbasket of America right where it is is due in large part to the River Basin and the fertile lands that it brings. And so this legislation recognizes that and how we can improve land conservation practices, but also get the added benefit of being able to preserve and protect the River Basin for future generations as well.
Looking specifically at the land conservation programs, we identified four in particular that we feel should be expanded, given the number of applications and the demand for participation in the programs. CRP, as the chairman just mentioned, thus far only 70 percent of the applicants who are applying for CRP enrollment receive it. So we are, basically, denying 30 percent of the farmers who want to participate in some form in the CRP program under current authorization and appropriations, and we feel there is room for improvement there.
The EQIP program can only serve one in every four applicants today, so there is a heightened demand for participation in the EQIP program; especially, in light of the increased concentration that we are now seeing in the Agriculture industry. And EQIP is specifically geared to deal with some of those concentration problems that might arise.
WRP, the Wetlands Reserve Program, is completely maxed out on who we can service right now with increasing demand every year, and the same is true for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives program, which is also maxed out in its current form. So we feel there is room for expansion in these important land conservation programs, programs that are incentive based and voluntary, rather than taking a regulatory or mandatory approach to land conservation programs. And there has been, as I am sure members of the committee are fully aware, some controversy in regard to watershed management practices, with some proposals that require a regulatory, mandatory approach, unlike what we are proposing in our bill, which is incentive and voluntary based. We feel that has the best chance of getting the maximum amount of participation and creating less onerous burden on farmers and landowners in the process.
And that is why we have been very careful in working closely with a lot of outside organizations. We have 30 separate organizations that are endorsing this bill already, including Wisconsin's Farm Bureau and Farmers Union. Whenever you can get those two groups together on any issue, we must be heading in the right direction, and countless other farm groups that have had input in this legislation. We included, we feel, some very important privacy data protection language in the bill, realizing concern that some private landowners and farmers have, and the sharing of the information. But most importantly, as Mr. Gutknecht already pointed out, is that it would call for greater collaboration at the Federal, State, and local level with multi-agencies and nonprofit organizations that are already doing some form of land conservation practices in the upper Midwest watershed area, and we want to encourage the continuation of that type of activity, but with greater sharing of information and greater collaboration so we can better target our limited resources for the optimal effect.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So that is, basically, why we have introduced the legislation and crafted it in these terms. I also think that what we are calling for as far as expansion and land conservation programs and payments to producers participating is one way of dealing with the farm crisis we have today. With plummeting commodity prices across the board, land conservation programs can provide a reliable stream of income for a lot of producers. And it is, hopefully, something that this committee and other members of Congress will seriously look at when it comes time to crafting the next farm bill over the next couple of years.
So with that, I just want to thank again the chairman and the ranking member of the committee for holding the hearing, and I appreciate all the work and support that Mr. Gutknecht has put into this legislation, and the other members who have endorsed and supported it as well. So thank you very much.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Kind. Any questions of our colleagues? Mr. Minge?
Mr. MINGE. No.
Mr. BARRETT. We thank you very muchexcellent testimony. You make a good duet. You should try it again someday.
Mr. GUTKNECHT. We get along great as long as the Vikings are not playing the Packers.
Mr. KIND. Just do not ask us to sing.
Mr. BARRETT. Thanks very much, gentlemen. I would like to invite our panel, Mr. Tom Weber, Deputy Chief for Programs, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA; Dr. Robert Hirsch, Associate Director for Water, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Interior; and Ms. Holly Stoerker, executive director, Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, St. Paul, MN.
We welcome each of you to this subcommittee hearing, and we do look forward to your testimony, and I would suggest that if Mr. Gutknecht or Mr. Kind, or both, would like to join us up here, we would be pleased to have them. And perhaps, they might have some questions of our witnesses later on.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Weber, let us start with you, sir.
STATEMENT OF THOMAS A. WEBER, DEPUTY CHIEF FOR PROGRAMS, NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
Mr. WEBER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear here today and discuss the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000. My name is Tom Weber. I am Deputy Chief for Programs for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. NRCS shares the concerns about the health of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Basin is not only a defining geographic feature for much of the Midwest region, but also has a vast natural resource impact for much of the North American content.
The Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries provide direct water supplies to over 20 million people and is vital to our Nation's transportation infrastructure, facilitating the shipment of agricultural products and other goods. The loss of nutrients and sediment in the basin has an enormous cost to the region and the Nation. I want to commend Congressman Ron Kind for elevating this important legislation and taking leadership on these issues.
The administration supports the concepts contained in H.R. 4013. We believe it would also build and enhance current local, State, and Federal partnership activities, and utilize the strengths of conservation districts, State conservation agencies, and programs. H.R. 4013 would expand and increase funding for several USDA conservation programs.
As you know, the President's proposed budget for fiscal year 2001 also requests increases in USDA conservation programs in support of the administration's Farm Safety Initiative. For example, H.R. 4013 proposes an increase in the Wetland Reserve program, acreage cap of 100,000 acres, increasing the cap from 975,000 acres to 1,075,000 acres. The President's request increases the program enrollment by 250,000 acres per year, from 2001 through fiscal year 2010. H.R. 4013 also proposes to increase EQIP funding by $100 million. The President's request exceeds this by $25 million, for a total request of $325 million. Finally, the fiscal year 2001 budget proposes a new $600 million conservation security program to provide annual payments to farmers and ranchers who have voluntarily implemented various conservation practices on their land, many of which benefit water quality.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Department has a few concerns with the legislation; primarily, the legislation requires the Secretary to establish a grant program in conjunction with non-Federal efforts to demonstrate new best management practices. Also, the legislation would make the Upper Mississippi River Basin a conservation priority area and require the Secretary to increase financial and technical assistance to it in order to address sediment and nutrient problems. Since no new funding has been requested for these specific activities, any financial support for them may have to be redirected from ongoing natural resource conservation service programs, at a time when the agency is already experiencing significant budgetary and workload pressure.
Achieving the objectives of H.R. 4013 should not come at the expense of other activities. We recommend that a mechanism to provide new and distinct funding for these activities be specifically identified and enumerated in the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000. We also believe there is a need for maintaining a strong cadre of technical field based staff to be able to deliver the assistance to landowners that is supported by our conservation technical assistance account.
In summary, the bill contains concepts that the administration supports and would greatly benefit the economic environmental health of the region. We look forward to working with the members of this subcommittee to address some of our concerns that have been raised as we work toward implementation of our administration's 2001 budget target for these programs that would assist the basin.
I would again like to commend Representative Kind and the sponsors for addressing the health of this important natural resource legislation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present the testimony. I will be pleased to answer questions at the appropriate time.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Weber appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Weber. Dr. Hirsch.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT HIRSCH, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR WATER, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Mr. HIRSCH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. I am Robert Hirsch, Associate Director for Water at the U.S. Geological Survey, and responsible for the water science activities of the USGS. We thank you for the opportunity to address the subcommittee on the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000.
Let me begin by saying that the administration supports the concepts contained in the bill, and particularly, supports the emphasis on the use of sound science for resolving such difficult and contentious issues. The issues of water quality in the Upper Mississippi Basin are significant from the standpoint of human health and aquatic ecosystems within the Upper Basin, as well as being significant to resources far downstream. I should point out that full implementation of the bill would require significant new resources and should not come at the expense of other priorities that the Congress has established for the USGS.
We believe that the role defined in the bill for the USGS is appropriate to our mission. We are very active in the areas of monitoring of modeling of stream flow, groundwater, nutrients, sediment, and aquatic biological communities. We have offices dedicated to hydrologic data collection and analysis in each State of the Upper Mississippi River Basin, and we also have the upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in La Crosse, WI, which is heavily involved in these issues. We also have a nationwide staff of experts we can call upon to address the water quality issues of this region.
The USGS is already highly familiar with the issues addressed in this bill. We have played the lead role in assessing the sources of nutrients in the Mississippi Basin as a part of the Mississippi River-Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. Let me take a moment to refer to a few charts to show some of the highlights of the work that we have completed. All of this work has been peer reviewed by scientists and stakeholders and has been published in the scientific literature. First, just to simply orient you to the entire Mississippi River Basin, and one of the important areas of consideration in this, not only the issues of the Basin itself but its impact on the Gulf of Mexico through the hypoxia zone.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The next chart illustrates from our own monitoring data in the Mississippi River the movement of nitrate, which is a major cause of this hypoxia in the Gulf, as well as cause of problems within the entire Basin. And what we see here in this record from 1955 through 1999 is an increase in the quantity of nitrate moving down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico; essentially, more than doubling over the last 20 years, as compared to the period before that. We also see reflected in this how responsive the river is to hydrologic conditions, noting very low fluxes in 1988, the year of a very severe drought in that region; very high fluxes in 1993, a period of, of course, catastrophic flooding.
The hypoxia issue in the Gulf is, of course, one of the concerns that has been addressed, and here is a map developed by the folks at the Louisiana Marine Consortium, showing the size of the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico, very much responsive to the amount of nutrients coming down the river. And again, we see that has generally increased over this period of time. It was very low in 1988 in response to the drought; it was very high in 1993 and subsequent years. And interestingly, quite small in the year 2000, which was quite a dry year; particularly, during the early parts of the growing season. We would expect that that will increase again when we get back to a more nearly normal year.
This next illustration is in the process of trying to summarize this situation, it is very important to try to get an understanding of the inputs of all of the major sources of nitrogen to this river basin, and this is a plot from 1950 through the late 1990's of the amounts of nitrogen that had come into this basin from a variety of sources. We see major sources from manure, from the fixation of nitrogen in legumes and pastures, and also, much smaller amounts from what is coming out of the atmosphere and atmospheric deposition, and the lowest line on there, which is the municipal and industrial source. The one that has changed so dramatically over this period during which the water quality changed is fertilizer applied to the fields, and this is why the importance of focusing on the agricultural issues; not to the exclusion of any other issues, but agriculture is clearly of great importance here.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And let us just go one more figure. This final one is a set of two illustrations that were published in the Task Force report and in a number of other places. The one to the left is the total sources of nitrogen by sub-basin in the entire Mississippi River Basin, and the red colors are the areas where the sources of nitrogen are the largest on a current unit area basis. We also measure what is moving in the rivers, and the figure on the right illustrates the sub-basins of the Mississippi River Basin that contribute the greatest amount of nitrogen. And again, the focus is in some of the Upper Mississippi River Basin area, the one shown in red. We will stop with that one.
Let me just wrap up by saying the USGS is a strong institutional base to conduct the work that the bill calls for. We have an infrastructure for monitoring, for data management, for partnering with other Federal, State, local, and academic organizations, and for doing the basic research needed to evaluate the potential effectiveness of water management strategies. However, our monitoring infrastructure in place today is not sufficient to the job. Budget reductions and changing priorities over the past decade has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of sites where we monitor and assess nutrients and sediment. Our previous analyses illustrated in these figures was for the years 1980 through 1996, and was based on data from 42 sub-basins. Today, we only monitor 13 sub-basins. This number would have to be significantly increased if we were to go forward with this plan.
If the bill were enacted, there would be a need for about an additional $10 million per year in new funding to build upon our existing programs to attain the level of effort described in the bill. The issues of the changing quality of the Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, and resulting impacts on human health and biota in the basin and hundreds of miles downstream and offshore is an ideal task for the USGS. We serve the Nation as a non-regulatory science agency dedicated to understanding our Nation's land, water, and living resources. The motto of the USGS is ''Science for a Changing World.'' These issues of such broad, topical, and geographic scope are an ideal fit with our mission and strategic plans. We look forward to working with the Congress as you consider this legislation and funding priorities for this important work. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Mr. Hirsch appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, sir. In the interest of time and the fact that we need to protect voting records, I am going to ask for a recess so we can move back and forth. Let us call a 10-minute recess, please. We will back with you in a moment.
Mr. BARRETT. Let us proceed with the third witness, Ms. Stoerker.
STATEMENT OF HOLLY STOERKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER BASIN ASSOCIATION, ST. PAUL, MN
Ms. STOERKER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. My name is Holly Stoerker, and I am the executive director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, which is an organization that was formed 19 years ago by the Governors of the five-basin States; those States being Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
First, I want to thank Representatives Ron Kind and Gil Gutknecht for their leadership in addressing what has been a long time recognized problem on the Upper Mississippi River and, frankly, throughout the basin, which is sedimentation and nutrient enrichment. But really, rather than describing those problems today, what I want to do is move right to the legislation before us, H.R. 4013, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act. And what I would like to do is highlight several of the bill's strengths, what we believe are the strengths of the bill, and also, some ways in which we think that it could be enhanced.
First, H.R. 4013 takes a watershed based approach and a voluntary incentive based approach, and it recognizes the very fundamental fact that what we do on the land throughout this basin affects our water, affects our water in the basin and outside of the basin. And it is such a rich agricultural area that we have to be able to simultaneously protect that water while we protect agricultural productivity and our agricultural economy.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Second, H.R. 4013 combines into one comprehensive legislative package the modeling, the monitoring, and the conservation. And this holistic approach, in our view, assures that we have the sound science that we need and good information so we can actually target conservation programs most effectively. And in fact, the linkages between the science and the conservation, in our view, is so fundamentally important that we believe that we actually have some opportunities in this bill to improve those by more clearly defining the goal of the monitoring and also clarifying how the conservation activities in the bill are to be guided by that science.
Third, and very importantly, H.R. 4013 clearly acknowledges the importance of partnerships. In particular, the bill sets up a collaborative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey and the Natural Resources Conservation Service and recognizes the need for those agencies to coordinate with others. But I would suggest that it is just this coordination and partnership philosophy that we believe could be enhanced. And most importantly, these kinds of Federal efforts need to be more closely linked with State and local efforts, because much of the monitoring and the watershed planning, the water quality work, the land conservation programs, all of that in this basin is actually led by State and local governments. For example, every State in our basin has some sort of its own soil and water conservation program that they administer. States also have the responsibility under the Clean Water Act for a variety of water quality programs; things like the section 319 Nonpoint Pollution Program and like water quality monitoring in streams and rivers throughout the basin.
And I think we will be missing a great opportunity if we do not work together to figure out ways to better link Federal programs like those that are envisioned in 4013 with State and local efforts. And in addition, this partnership philosophy could be further enhanced if the roles of other Federal agencies were also explicitly acknowledged, because there are agencies like USEPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, Corp of Engineers, that have responsibility and authority and also need to be involved.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Fourth, the conservation programs identified in title III of the bill; namely, CRP, WRP, EQIP, and so forth, are all extremely important programs in our basin. And yet, we have some lingering concerns about whether simply increasing the national funding and acreage caps for these programs are actually going to be an effective way of getting the needed resources to our basin in particular.
And finally, is the question of technical assistance. Technical assistance is absolutely critical to any land conservation program. While H.R. 4013, as Mr. Weber indicated, directs the Secretary of Agriculture to increase technical assistance, it provides no additional resources to do so. And as we all know, NRCS has been losing staff and field level capabilities. Perhaps there are some ways that we could think of to use existing State technical assistance programs, but the fact still remains, if we do not have technical assistance, we are simply not going to be able to make these programs really work.
So in closing, I just want to underscore our member States strong support for the objectives of H.R. 4013, the need for the bill to clear, and I think the States are really eager to make it a reality. Thank you very much for the opportunity to come today.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Stoerker appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you very much. Thanks to all of you for good testimony. As you perhaps know, this committee has always been concerned about the integrity or that the integrity of some of USDA's voluntary incentive programs might be jeopardized by unauthorized use of a lot of information that farmers and ranchers need to present to USDA for various reasons. And perhaps, Ms. Stoerkeryou seem to be very conversant with the bill itself. I had a question about title IV, which protects certain information generated by the USDA, but that title does not appear to protect the sites or data from monitoring programs established in section 102 of the bill. I do not want to get too technical, but section 102, specifically, refers to release of data resulting from sediment and nutrient monitoring in the Upper Mississippi River Basin shall be released to the publicshall be released to the publicusing generic station identifiers and location coordinates. And in fact, section 102 requires the Secretary to release that information, it appears to me, to the public. And I guess the question is, simply, why should that information be released to the public?
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. STOERKER. Mr. Chairman, I will confess to you that while I might have indicated all kinds of things I know about this bill, this section is not one of them. And at the risk of losing a good relationship that I just have initiated this afternoon with Mr. Weber, I would defer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, I will make the following observation, which I think we raised in our written testimony, which is that one of the things that I think could really be helpful in thinking about the notion of what data needs to be released, and to whom, and under what circumstances, is the question of what, precisely, we are monitoring and why. And that is one of the points that we have made in our testimony, not so much for the privacy issues, so much as making sure we get the right science that we need to make management decisions. But it seems to me that if you get that defined right up front, some of those privacy issues may not be as important as they look at first blush. But that is a very uninformed opinion, and I shall defer to the Department of Agriculture.
Mr. BARRETT. I will not press the subject, but perhaps Mr. Weber, Dr. Hirsch, this seems to be kind of a discombobulation to me. Any thoughts, Mr. Weber?
Mr. WEBER. Mr. Chairman, section 102 would relate to the Department of Interior, specifically, for the guidelines for data collection and storage. So I would probably be remiss in trying to answer that for Mr. Hirsch. I would ask if he could address that particular point.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Hirsch.
Mr. HIRSCH. Yes. As I understand the provisions, they would really be in line with what our current practice is, which is that we collect data from wells, and from streams, and when there is private property involved, we seek the concurrence of those from whom we are collecting it. But part of our mission is to describe the environment and make those information available to everyone. While we do not disclose the name of the property owner, we do disclose the location. And so if one were curious enough, one could certainly determine that the data came from a particular piece of property. And we think that we cannot have the assessment and the public discourse about these issues if the data are not freely available. So as it applies to the data on water and water quality, we thinkand I think this legislation reflects thatthat the data really becomes freely available to all provided that the landowner has given agreement to have the data collected.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Are you comfortable then with the language as it is presently written?
Mr. HIRSCH. I think the language in section 102, yes. I think, overall, the administration does have some concerns with the privacy issues in title IV, and I am not an expert on those issues and not really qualified to comment on those concerns with title IV.
Mr. BARRETT. OK. Thank you. Title II sets up a new program within the Department of Interior to model the nutrient, and sediment, loading, and so forth, in the basin, and requires USDA to evaluate some of the best management practices to reduce the loadings. Now, of course, EPA has just issued their regulations on TMDL and under the Clean Water Act. And how do you see this bill interacting or interfacing then with TMDL program? Is there a problem there?
Mr. WEBER. Thank you for the question, Mr. Chairman. I do not believe there is a problem there. I think the TMDL is, obviouslythat process is ongoing with the proposed regulation. The primary focus here is to ensure that we do a good credible scientific job of modeling impacts on the water quality. I would expect that part of the output of that would be to measure how we are doing in terms of improvement in that particular watershed or sub-watershed area. But off the top of my head, I am not sure there is a conflict there.
Mr. BARRETT. Well, my time has expired, but very quickly, do you see any kind of a duplication of effort here between the Federal and the State authorities?
Mr. HIRSCH. Let me just react to that. I think that if managed poorly, yes, we could see duplication. But I think we, both of our agencies, have extensive programs of collaboration. And in fact, in terms of things like the best management practices, and identifying them, working with the university community to do that research and to see how these things play out. So I think in this day and age of limited resources for these kinds of investigations, I think we will see close collaboration and dividing up the work among the entities.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, sir. Mr. Minge.
Mr. MINGE. We have had a couple of comments this afternoon about the Conservation Reserve Program. And Mr. Weber, I would like to ask for your reaction to the perception that some of us have that the administration has not fully implemented CRP at the current maximum, and so what do we gain by increasing the acreage to 40 or 45 million acres?
Mr. WEBER. Thank you, Representative Minge. The current cap, I think as everyone knows, is about 36 1/2 million acres. We are currently at, roughly, 33 to 33 1/2 million acres. The balance of the acreage remaining has been set aside for conservation buffers, continuous buffers, which I believe most of these States are participating in very actively. The increase to a 40 million or 45 million cap, which I guess 45 million is proposed here, certainly would provide additional room for sign-ups, to increase the amount of acreage coming into CRP and, therefore, as one of the benefits, soil erosion reduction, water quality improvements would certainly come from that.
Mr. MINGE. Do you feel at this point you are bumping up against the limit or do you have, with roughly 2 1/2 million acres left, a fairly substantial amount of unused CRP authority?
Mr. WEBER. We are projecting that based on the incentives that have now been in place for buffers, the CREP program in some of these States and others, that that is going to increase the demand and put some pressure on that remaining acreage. And by 2002, hopefully, as a result of that, we will see the vast majority of that acreage be utilized.
Mr. MINGE. A second question I have does deal with the CREP program or the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and this subcommittee held a hearing in Mankato, MN earlier this year with respect to the CREP program, and I would like to ask if you have proposals that go beyond the three that have been implemented, which I understand are the Minnesota River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Illinois River, that would result in expansion of that program, and if that program could be more fully implemented in the Upper Mississippi Basin.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WEBER. Representative Minge, I am not that familiar with all the details on CREP. The Farm Service Agency really does have the administrative lead there, but I do know that a number of States have a relationship and an agreement with the Secretary on CREP, and it is a state-by-state kind of focus. Illinois has an extremely active CREP, and is probably really a leader in the country. And we would like to see that same model used throughout the country, but I think the upper Midwest is a great example of CREP and the use of CREP. Iowa does not have CREP, however, it has a very active continuous sign-up program, which is really putting a lot of acres into it. Missouri is very active in that area. So these five States are doing extremely well. I have, actually, the acreage here; of those 5 States, we have almost 5 million acres in CRP. And in some of these States, a large number of those acres is the CREP or continuous sign-up.
Mr. MINGE. Another question I would like to pursue is whether this bill would set up a competition that would be adverse, let us say, to Nebraska. We have Members of Congress from different States and, of course, Nebraska is in the Missouri drainage of the Mississippi, and if there is any reason why we should not sign up the chairman on this bill, I would be interested in hearing that, but we would like to have participation from as broad a group as possible.
So do you perceive a competition like that, regionally, for some of these resources like CRP?
Mr. WEBER. Representative Minge, yes, I would. I thinkand competition is not all bad. Conservation is good, and we would like to see folks at the local level participate as much as they can. But I would expect, given the ratios we have talked about here, that is for applications for everyone we can fund with EQIP currently, CRP was 70 percent, and on, and on. It is, basically, a similar story all over the country. The demand is far outstripping the dollars available, and because of that, there is certainly competition between States. I might add that, obviously, the basin here is limited to five States. There may be other opportunities that might want to be explored in terms of the rest of the Mississippi Basin and the adjoining States that might make some positive strides in terms of a holistic approach to the whole basin.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MINGE. Maybe I could just add that, speaking for myself and I think for Mr. Kind and several others, we would like to cooperate with any other region of the country that would like to pursue an initiative of this type, and that would certainly include the Missouri River area.
I see my time is up. I would just like to make a statement in closing, and that is that hypoxia has been mentioned here. I see the maps, and I missed your testimony, Mr. Hirsch, but I see the maps and the references to hypoxia. I am somewhat concerned that all of the research is not yet complete on hypoxia and that we be very careful that we not blame the Upper Mississippi Basin for this. I noticed that 1993, when we had the flooding in the Upper Mississippi, we had tremendous discharges into the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, 1993 does not appear to be a peak year for hypoxia, and so before we take everyone to task, or before we so frighten people that this ends up driving policies that may not be science based, let us make sure that we have done all of the research and had it critiqued and subject to forms so that we make sure that as we deal with this very, very difficult situation, and alarming situation, that we deal with it in the most effective way.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Minge. Mr. Gutknecht.
Mr. GUTKNECHT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I really do not have so much a question, but I do want to attach myself to the remarks my colleague from Minnesota, particularly, on this issue of hypoxia. Clearly, there is some relationship between farm practices in the upper Midwest and what is happening in the Gulf. But clearly, the absolute connection is not as firm as some would have us believe, and I think part of the whole purpose of this type of legislation is get good sound science. And I reiterate what I said at the beginningI think altogether too often, our farmers have been seen as only part of the problem, and we want to make them part of the solution.
I also want to underscore the urgency of doing some things as it relates to EQIP, and CRP, and so forth. I was of the opinion, and I think an awful lot of people are of the opinion, that we are doing a wonderful job with these various programs in our area, but we got a brutal awakening this June. We had two very, very severe rain eventsI am not sure what the term that you useand we probably saw more washing, more gullies, more erosion this summer in my district, literally, from Hollandale, MN to Hokah, than I have seen, literally, in the last 20 years, and some people say in the last 50 years.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And it really underscored to me that we have got to do a better job, whether it is with buffer strips, whether it is with water conservation, or watershed districts. It just strikes me that we are not doing nearly as good a job as we thought we were, at least from my own perspective.
I would invite members of the committee, and especially, my colleagues from Minnesota and Wisconsin, to come and visit, for example, Art Thick's farm. He has an intensively managed rotational grazing dairy operation, and it is one of the most beautiful farms I have ever seen in my life, and I would invite anybody to come. The interesting thing is we do not even recognize what they are doing on that farm in any of the farm programs that we have. And maybe we should not. I mean, maybe ultimately, when people see the wisdom of this, more and more people, particularly in some of the more fragile areas, will just go to that.
But it strikes me that we have got toas we look forward to the next farm bill, especially, we have got to look outside the box. We have got to think about how do we make better use of the CRP monies and acreage that are available, how do we make better use of those buffer strips, how do we make better use of soil and water conservation districts, how do we make better use of intensively managed rotational grazing. All of those things, I think, have to be part of the mix, and which is the other reason I am so excited about this type of legislation. We want to get people to work together, we want to get people to listen to each other, and we want to use sound science.
And I think that is really what the whole goal is, and if I have anything to say about it, these kinds of things are going to be incorporated in the next farm bill, because we are not doing as good a job as I think we can and we should be doing. It is not just a matter of how many acres are being enrolled in CRP. I mean, enrolling, you know, 100,000 acres in North Dakota, where they get 10 inches of rain, may not be the most efficient use of that acreage or of the money that is being appropriated.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We could probably do a much better job enrolling a few thousand acres in some of the areas that I am thinking of, particularly, along the Minnesota River and other places. And I just think we have got to work with the administration, we have got to listen to each other, we have got to work together, because the idea that this is purely a win-lose situation is one that we have got to change.
And so, I do not really have so much a question as just a comment, that I really do regard this as one of the most important priorities as we begin to put together the next farm bill. So thank you very much.
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Kind.
Mr. KIND. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If I can just take a moment, Mr. Chairman, to address all of the questions that you had in regard to the collection of personal privacy data and that, this was a very key component in putting this legislation together. We worked very closely with farm groups, as far as the actual language we were going to insert. I do not think there is a conflict to any great extent between section 102 and title IV of the bill.
What we are talking about is water quality testing, and I think the language in there protects the personal data collection on individual farms to a degree where the farms are very comfortable that that data would not be misused, but we are also talking about the collection of accumulative data and the water quality testing throughout the entire basin, and that is something that would not, necessarily, pinpoint individual private ownership concerns to the extent that I think you were getting at in the testimony.
But I just want to thank the witnesses for your testimony today and your analysis of the legislation. Obviously, it is a work in progress, one that we know is not in final form yet. We have a lot of work still to do, I think, that we can accomplish through markups and the respective committees.
One of the exciting features that this bill holds as far as the hope and promises, if we can get the science right in what we are proposing with this legislation, it could provide a terrific model to other watershed areas throughout the country. It addresses one of the concerns that Mr. Minge raised in regard to regional competition and haves or have-nots, and that whole debate, is if we can set this up the way that we envision it, and with the expertise and the talent that will be brought on the science aspect of it, this could be a terrific model for other watershed areas that can then be applied to other areas as well.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That is why I think we have received so much regional support already with cosponsors from 20 separate States; not just the five Upper Mississippi region States, but 20 separate States and representatives cosponsoring the bill.
But one of the key components of this is something that I think all three of you have alluded to is the importance of a collaboration, that we are really speaking to in this, and I know NRCS has worked terrific with State and local agencies in collaborative efforts on land conservation practices and that to a great extent. And that is something that we are trying to encourage within the legislation. I think USGS has a plethora of talent and expertise, and it is the right agency being asked to do the important thing in this bill, given the track record that you have established, especially, for the environmental management program that has proved very valuable and very useful to State and local entities as well.
Perhaps I could ask Dr. Hirsch if he could expound about that a little bit, because what we do have already set up in the Upper Mississippi Region is the EMP program with some long-term resource monitoring and data collection. But it does not extend into a lot of the rivers and tributaries that ultimately flow into the Mississippi, itself, but I know there has been a lot of collaboration on that level already if you would like to touch upon that.
Mr. HIRSCH. Yes. Thank you for the comments about our work. Indeed, it is necessary just to monitor the main stem of the Mississippi River and the tributaries immediately leading into it, but to move up through the system and understand what is coming out of smaller sub-basins and different types of areas with different soil types, different cropping patterns, et cetera.
If I might just comment on this issue of the science involved, since it was raised by a couple of the other memberswe continue to try to push the limits of that science and publish it into peer review literature. One of the most important questions is a pound of nitrogen that might come off of a field in one particular area does not necessarily move 10 miles, 100 miles, or several hundred miles downstream. There are processes that occur in the river in connection with microorganisms that live in the bed of the river with the vegetation along the river, and other processes that cause the removal of that nitrogen as it moves downstream. And so any approaches to resolve these questions, whether one is concerned about the Gulf of Mexico or concerned about the Minnesota River, for example, need to understand these. We call them denitrification processes; very poorly understood at this point. We need to move way up into the systems and to example watersheds to try to understand that. And in fact, we have some new research just in the last couple of years where we are trying to do some comparisons, large rivers versus small rivers within the basin.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So these are some of the areas that need to be expanded; not just to get a handle on these quantities, but to understand so that we can determine where the greatest impact can be had by conservation measures.
Mr. KIND. Thank you. And Ms. Stoerker, just with the remaining time, I certainly have appreciated yours and the association's interest and input that you have given us on this legislation, and I certainly receive your comments in regard to the collaboration at the State and local level with a great deal of interest. I do view that as one of the weaknesses of the legislation and look forward to working with you on how we can more explicitly flush that out in the body of the legislation to a greater extent. I think that is very important so that we do not have the duplication and the inefficiencies that are created without the proper collaboration. But I also think one of the other issues that we are going to have to look at as well is urban impact on the river basin. That is really not addressed in this legislation. But I am hoping that is what the science will bring is what is going on and how do we most efficiently and best deal with this issue.
So again, I thank all three of you for your testimony today, and thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Kind. Mr. Weber, you suggested that you were not satisfied with section 203, that is the demonstrations projects, regarding the new best management practices. Is the concern there cost, and if so, does anybody have any idea what we are looking at in terms of dollars?
Mr. WEBER. Yes, Mr. Chairman. The issue is cost. We do not have a dollar figure at this point.
Mr. BARRETT. Is this something that could be done under educational programs that is available through EQIP, for example?
Mr. WEBER. The EQIP piece of it, yes, but that education component would not go beyond the EQIP cost share program.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRETT. OK. Thank you, sir. Mr. Minge.
Mr. MINGE. I would simply like to thank Ms. Stoerker for being a part of our panel this afternoon. We appreciate the perspective that you bring to this, and as you know, the three of us that are up here, Mr. Gutknecht, Mr. Kind, and myself, have worked on a variety of issues that apply to the Upper Mississippi, and we appreciate the work of your group in supporting these sound conservation measures. Thank you for coming.
Ms. STOERKER. Thank you so very much. It is my pleasure.
Mr. BARRETT. Are there other questions from members? If not
Mr. KIND. Mr. Chairman?
Mr. BARRETT. Mr. Kind.
Mr. KIND. Just to get back to your question with Mr. Weber, we would be happy to work with you and the agency in regard to the demonstration and the grant programs. I think what we were initially envisioning or calling for in the legislation was about $3.5 million for the grants and demonstration projects, but we ultimately went to such sums as may be necessary, and I think that is what we need to be a little bit more explicit about. We certainly do not want to be robbing Peter to do something with Paul in the Upper Mississippi Region. We would be very happy to work with you, Representative Kind.
Mr. KIND. Thank you.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, gentlemen, and thank you, witnesses, for some excellent testimony. We appreciate you giving the time and the talent to this hearing. Thank you very much.
The Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and supplementary written responses from witnesses to any question posed by a member of the panel. Without objection, it is so ordered. This hearing is adjourned.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Whereupon, at 3:15 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Statement of Hon. Gil Gutknecht
Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you and your subcommittee for arranging today's hearing. I appreciate this opportunity to share with you my views on what I consider is a very worthy conservation proposal, a measure that will establish as a national priority the challenge of reducing nutrient and soil sediment losses into the Mississippi River and the many streams and watersheds within the Basin. Today, the Mississippi River remains a critical thoroughfare for our farmers and a vital habitat for wildlife. H.R. 4013, Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act is pro-active legislation that will enable Federal, State and local entities to develop a sound science-based response to the environmental challenges posed by soil erosion and nutrient losses in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. By relying on a comprehensive and effective coordination of agency activities at all levels, H.R. 4013 intends to gather the necessary data and researchand other information we need for determining how and where we can best reduce sediment and nutrients in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Without an adequate water quality monitoring network and integrated computer modeling program, I believe it will be extremely difficult to maximize the targeted use of our conservation programs, technical assistance, and other Federal agency resources. As we proceed with the consideration of H.R. 4013, it is equally important that we adopt results-oriented policies that allow for flexibility and foster innovative land management practices. All too often our Federal regulations have required a one size fits all solution that do little to accomplish the objectives of cleaner air and water. Again, it is imperative that our conservation policies and regulations be guided by sound science-based decision making and the recognition that our financial resources are not unlimited.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let me also the emphasize that H.R. 4013 provides a legislative framework that relies heavily on voluntary participation in existing conservation programs, monitoring, and assessment. If we are to achieve the objectives of improved water quality in the Basin, it is my view that this kind of voluntary, non-regulatory public-private approach is crucial to generating the greatest level of support. Reducing sediment and nutrient losses is a win for the health of the Mississippi River, a win for farmers, a win for commercial navigation, and a win for those who enjoy the recreational opportunities offered in the basin. Clearly, there will be enormous benefits for our environment and the millions of Americans who depend on the proper stewardship of the Mississippi River. It is too great a natural resource treasure for Congress and the Nation to take for granted. This legislation will build on the exceptional work that is being accomplished today by a number of agencies and volunteer organizations at the State and local level. As Co-Chair of the Upper Mississippi River Task Force, I look forward to working with you and Congressman Kind in advancing the legislation before you today.
Statement of Robert M. Hirsch
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 4013, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000. The administration supports many of the provisions of H.R. 4013; we especially appreciate the emphasis within the bill on the need for reliance on sound science. The administration has strong reservations concerning title IV of H.R. 4013, which we will discuss later. We also have concerns about the financial resources that would be required for the United States Geological Survey to carry out this bill. Implementation of this bill would be subject to the availability of resources in the context of overall administration priorities. We are continuing to review H.R. 4013 and the administration will be able to provide views on it at a later date.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The bill directs the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to establish a cooperative effort to reduce sediment and nutrient loss in the Upper Mississippi River. This would be accomplished through establishing a sediment and nutrient monitoring network; conducting sediment and nutrient modeling; conducting research and demonstration projects regarding best management practices; providing financial and technical assistance; and establishing advisory groups consisting of local, State, and Tribal stakeholders.
USGS has the scientific expertise to address a significant resource-management problemnutrient and sediment loss in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. As you know, nutrients and sediment in the Upper Mississippi River Basin and their relation to the hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico is a very controversial issue. The USGS as a non-regulatory, non-advocacy, scientific agency collects additional monitoring data, conducts modeling and research, and examines the effectiveness of alternative management measures. The information and analysis USGS provides, when linked to the fact that we do not serve as advocates, often helps to diffuse controversy that attends issues such as this.
The role identified for USGS in this bill is consistent with the bureau's leadership role in monitoring, interpretation, research, and assessment of the health and status of the water and biological resources of the Nation. As the Nation's largest water, earth, and biological science, and civilian mapping agency, USGS conducts the largest single ambient non-regulatory water-quality monitoring activity in the Nation. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB Memo 921) established the Department of the Interior, through USGS, as the lead agency of the Water Information Coordination Program.
The overall purpose of the Program is to improve water information for decision making regarding natural resources management and environmental protection. The Program works with all levels of government, Tribal interests, and the private sector through the Advisory Committee on Water Information, which identifies water information needs, evaluates the effectiveness of water information programs, and recommends improvements.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The USGS is an active member of the Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force representing the DOI, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. This Task Force, which has representation from Federal agencies, and State and Tribal governments in the basin, is charged with fulfilling requirements of The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998, by preparing a plan for controlling hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and shares a common goal of improving water-quality conditions in the Mississippi River Basin. This Task Force has expressed many of the same concerns as addressed in H.R. 4013, and has identified the importance of many of the same science and management activities as proposed in this bill. Task Force discussions have emphasized the need for a science-based, adaptive management framework for its management action plan. The USGS has had a lead role in the preparation of a science report that uses available water-quality information to define a recent baseline condition for nutrient sources and loads in the Mississippi River Basina baseline from which future water-quality trends and improvements will be measured. This report identifies parts of the Upper Mississippi River Basin as having some of the highest nutrient yields in the basin.
As identified in H.R. 4013, an essential element of an efficient monitoring and interpretation program in support of nutrient and sediment management in the Upper Mississippi River is the incorporation of existing monitoring activities. The USGS has offices in each of the five Upper Mississippi River Basin States. These offices have a long history of conducting water-quantity and water-quality monitoring and assessment activities within the basin. Existing USGS programs, such as our National Water-Quality Assessment Program, our National Stream Quality Accounting Network, and our Federal-State Cooperative Water Program, currently provide information on nutrients and sediment within the basin that would serve as a foundation for the activities proposed by this bill.
H.R. 4013 would also enable existing USGS monitoring and science programs in the Upper Mississippi River Basin to better meet future information needs by filling data gaps between existing programs and accelerating development of models. These models are tools for defining how water-quality conditions are affected by human activities and natural climatic variations and how management actions may best improve water-quality conditions at a wide range of scales from the farm field to the main stem of the Mississippi River. Furthermore, the bill will enable improved integration of activities conducted in cooperation with other Federal partners and will emphasize and expand the existing USGS role of coordinating and assisting State monitoring programs. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program restores wetland habitat in watersheds across the country, including the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Service is available to apply its expertise to the reduction of sediment and nutrient loss in the basin through participation in demonstration projects, technical assistance, and working groups.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, for the past 20 years, the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) has provided research support in the Upper Mississippi River Basin to Department of the Interior agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address complex issues of navigation, contaminants, and other natural resource concerns. More recently, this Center, which is based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, has developed an active partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on sediment and nutrient concerns of the agencies. For 15 years, the UMESC has provided the scientific and management leadership for the Long-term Resource Monitoring Program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Environmental Management Program for the Upper Mississippi River Basin main stem rivers. This monitoring program of water quality, fisheries, vegetation, land use, and other critical indicators of river health is the largest main stem river assessment program in the Nation. The USGS leadership of this program documents the agency's ability to conduct large-scale data collection and scientifically-based analyses, as well as to manage and serve extensive data files to resource managers and the public.
With regard to State efforts, the USGS also conducts monitoring activities in cooperation with many States and local governments in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Coordination and enhancement of these cooperating activities and ensuring that State data collection efforts adhere to standard practices would provide the needed scientific basis for implementation of sound, science-based management strategies in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. We also recognize the need to ensure that future monitoring activities complement and do not duplicate State monitoring activities.
With regard to title IV, it would generally prohibit the release or disclosure of information and data, collected pursuant to Federal conservation programs, to the public or any governmental agency outside the Department of Agriculture. Passage of title IV would make coordinated implementation of the wetlands provisions of the Clean Water Act and the Swampbuster provisions of the Food and Security Act extremely difficult. For example, under title IV, USDA would no longer be allowed to share its wetland delineations on agricultural lands with EPA or the Corps of Engineers, ending the coordinated implementation of these statutes and implementation of administrative reforms that provide a single point of contact for farmers. In addition, title IV would undercut Federal and State programs designed to control the discharge of pollutants and the degradation of wetlands by routinely depriving government agencies and the public of critical information concerning wetlands delineations, cropping histories, and prior converted crop land.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In summary, the bill contains provisions that the administration supports and are well within the scope and expertise of USGS. However, it also contains a very problematic provision restricting the use of data.
Finally, funding for the activities in H.R. 4013 is not included in the fiscal year 2001 President's Budget proposal, or the current versions of the House and Senate Interior appropriations bills. Financial support for these activities would have to be redirected from ongoing USGS monitoring and data collection activities at a time when the USGS already faces significant budget constraints.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present this testimony. I will be pleased to answer any questions you and other members of the subcommittee might have.
Statement of Holly Stoerker
Good afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the subcommittee, for this opportunity to appear before you. My name is Holly Stoerker and I am executive director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA). The Governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin formed the UMRBA in 1981 to coordinate the State agencies' river-related programs and policies and to work with Federal agencies on regional issues. On behalf of our member States, I am quite pleased to offer the following comments regarding the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000 (H.R. 4013).
Summary Position Statement: The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) strongly supports the purpose and objectives of the Act, and the important emphasis it places on sediment and nutrient reduction in this basin. However, revisions to this promising legislative framework are needed if it is to achieve its objectives. The UMRBA applauds the leadership of Representative Ron Kind and the Upper Mississippi River Congressional Task Force in addressing the challenge of sediment and nutrient reduction. We would welcome an opportunity to work closely with members of Congress, the Executive Branch, and interested stakeholder groups to enhance the legislation, secure its passage, and implement its provisions.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTRENGTHS OF THE LEGISLATION
It brings national attention to the needs of the Basin by addressing the important and long-standing problem of sediment and nutrients.
It is watershed-based, recognizing the fundamental relationship between land management practices throughout the Basin and the quality of water resources.
It provides for both monitoring and implementation efforts in a single legislative package, thus recognizing the importance of science-based decisionmaking and the value of targeted management actions.
It focuses on voluntary approaches, recognizing that this Basin is predominantly agricultural land and that stewardship of private landowners is critical to the success of sediment and nutrient reduction efforts.
It expands national conservation programs, which in combination with designation of the Basin as a Conservation Priority Area, holds promise for increasing the necessary resources to address the land conservation needs in the Basin.
It explicitly recognizes the need for a Federal, State, and local partnership approach by providing for cooperative agreements.
CONCERNS WITH THE LEGISLATION
Definition of Upper Mississippi River Basin. Section 3(2) defines the Basin as ''the watershed portion of the Mississippi River extending from Lake Itasca downstream to its confluence with the Illinois River and all tributaries upstream of that confluence, including those tributaries of the Illinois River.'' However, the Basin is typically understood to include the drainage area of the Mississippi River north of the confluence with the Ohio River, excluding the Missouri River Basin. The definition used in H.R. 4013 would presumably exclude the Meramec River sub-basin (Missouri) and the Kaskaskia River sub-basin (Illinois) from this traditional definition.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Properly identifying the geographic scope of the Basin is important if the program, including both monitoring and implementation efforts, is to effectively address the problem of sediment and nutrients in the Mississippi River. It is important for decision-makers and stakeholders to recognize that many of the benefits of the program will accrue locally in small watersheds within the Basin. While the stated purpose of the bill is to improve conditions in the Mississippi River itself, smaller streams and watersheds throughout the Basin will see improvements in water quality and habitat conditions long before we see improvements in the Mississippi River. It is this local benefit that will ultimately be most important in garnering and sustaining public support for the program.
State and Local Involvement. As currently drafted, H.R. 4013 fails to adequately recognize existing State and local programs and provide for the coordinated integration of those efforts with new and existing Federal programs. Currently, most of the water quality monitoring, watershed planning, water quality management, nonpoint source pollution, and land conservation programs in the Basin are led by State and local units of government. By failing to properly account for these efforts, H.R. 4013 has the potential for duplicating them, particularly with regard to data collection, identification of significant nutrient and sediment sources, and prioritizing areas most in need of treatment. Perhaps even more importantly, the ultimate effectiveness of Federal investment in watershed programs lies in locally-led efforts that leverage State and local resources. Shared goals, responsibility, and accountability result in shared success and commitment.
States have a wide variety of watershed protection, soil conservation, and land stewardship programs. For example, for the past 23 years, Minnesota has had a cost-share program that provides $2 million annually for technical services and installation of conservation practices. In addition, the Local Water Resources Protection and Management Program provides State funding for counties to develop and implement voluntary water plans based on local priorities. Similarly, the State of Missouri provides about $25 to $30 million per year from a one-tenth of 1 percent State sales tax to support cost-share programs for soil conservation practices, loan interest refunds for erosion control practices and equipment, and a Special Area Land Treatment (SALT) program for watershed-based projects to reduce agricultural nonpoint source water pollution. In Wisconsin, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and county governments provide cost-share funding to private landowners for best management practices. While H.R. 4013 need not explicitly reference these individual State programs, itshould establish a framework for working with and through these kinds of long-standing and successful State efforts.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSecondly, H.R. 4013 fails to recognize the States' water quality responsibilities under the Clean Water Act. Most directly related to the objectives of H.R. 4013 is the section 319 nonpoint source pollution program, which the States administer. In fiscal year 2001, it is anticipated that roughly $36 million will be spent by the five Basin States for this program alone. In addition, States may use up to 19 percent of their Clean Water State Revolving Fund capitalization grants for implementing nonpoint source projects.
Finally, the monitoring network to be established by USGS under the provisions of H.R. 4013 must be integrated with existing State water quality monitoring efforts. While language in sections 103 and 104(a) of the bill recognizes this need by requiring the integration of ''existing sediment and nutrient monitoring efforts'' and collaboration with ''State, tribal, local, and private sediment and nutrient monitoring programs, cost-share requirements in section 105 raise questions about how this is to be achieved. If the nonFederal cost-share partners for the Basin-wide monitoring network are expected to be State and/or local units of government, then existing State monitoring efforts should be deemed to satisfy this requirement. The bill would benefit from enhanced clarity on this point.
In summary, H.R. 4013 must acknowledge, build upon, and add value to existing State and local soil and water management initiatives rather than create new potentially duplicative processes. Stronger partnership approaches must be used to ultimately build greater capacity at the State and local level to put ''conservation on the ground.''
Relationship to Other Federal Efforts. The bill's emphasis on coordination of Federal nutrient and sediment reduction efforts is welcome and could be potentially very helpful. However, by confining the coordination responsibilities to the Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior (USGS), H.R.4013 fails to fully account for other Federal programs and initiatives of direct relevance to the stated purpose of the legislation. Most notably, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) has lead responsibility for many water quality efforts related to nutrients and sediment. While most Federal water quality programs are delegated to the States, EPA plays a major leadership role. In particular, EPA and USDA have joint responsibility for many of the initiatives in the Clean Water Action Plan, including for example, State-led watershed restoration priorities through the Unified Watershed Assessment process. In addition, EPA is currently in the process of developing nutrient criteria on a regional basis. States will have until 2003 (or 3 years after criteria are developed) to establish nutrient standards.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCAnother example of direct relevance to the goals of H.R. 4013 is the work of the EPA-led interagency Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. While the States of this Basin have a variety of concerns about this initiative, there is no question that it is seeking to address many of the same issues as does H.R. 4013. In particular, the Task Force is currently working to develop an ''Action Plan'' that addresses the Basin's needs related to nonpoint pollution, land treatment, wetlands and watershed restoration, modeling, and monitoring. In support of this effort, in 1999, the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources commissioned six scientific reports including evaluations of the flux and sources of nutrients in the Basin, and evaluations of the effects of, methods for, and economic costs and benefits of methods to reduce nutrient loads. There is no doubt that controversy still surrounds this scientific work and the policy recommendations that are being developed. However, it is incumbent upon any new proposed basinwide nutrient reduction program to coordinate with these and other past and current Federal programs to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts.
In addition to the various Federal efforts described above, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has on-going responsibilities related to both nutrients and sediment, including sediment transport modeling conducted under the Land Management System research program at the Waterways Experiment Station.
Technical Assistance. Technical assistance to private landowners is critical to the success of land and water conservation efforts. Yet H.R. 4013 does little to address this pressing need. NRCS has been gradually losing staff and field level capabilities due to budget cutbacks. This national trend will not be reversed by this single piece of Basin-specific legislation. However, there are opportunities to enhance existing Federal, State, and local technical assistance efforts if additional funding could be directed to this Basin. As just one example, the State of Missouri has technical assistance programs through its Department of Conservation and Department of Natural Resources designed to help farmers reduce soil erosion and to promote best management practices in timber harvesting. Any Federal-level effort to enhance technical assistance should complement and enhance State programs such as those already in practice in Missouri.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCIn addition, the value of the BMP research that section 202 of H.R. 4013 authorizes could be enhanced by more explicit ties to existing technical assistance delivery mechanisms. The bill focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of BMPs. In reality, more efforts are needed to get landowners to adopt proven BMPs than to developing new ones. It is an issue of technology transfer and technical assistance rather than applied research.
Targeting the Basin. Increasing the national funding and acreage caps for conservation programs is important, but will not likely be a sufficient means of targeting the needs of this Basin. Theincreases included in title III for CRP, WRP, WHIP, and EQIP reflect the Clinton administration fiscal year 2001 budget proposals, many of which are being rejected by Congressional Appropriators. While designating the Basin as a Conservation Priority Area may help somewhat, it is generally believed that adding priorities without also adding financial resources will be of limited value. Again, USDA conservation programs are only one avenue for increasing on-the-ground conservation practices. Consideration should also be given to providing cost-shared assistance directly to existing State and local programs in this Basin.
Linkage Between Monitoring/Modeling and Implementation. Monitoring and modeling activities are most useful when they are designed to address specific management questions and issues. Title I of H.R. 4013 seeks to establish a monitoring network, including guidelines for the reporting, storage, and release of data and requirements for coordination with other monitoring efforts. Yet there is comparatively less attention given to the purpose and goals of the monitoring, other than to identify sediment and nutrients as the components to be monitored. In contrast, the section 201 modeling provisions are quite specific in prescribing model scales and data sets, but include no references to building upon existing modeling efforts. How the models are to be used and by whom should inform model development.
In the case of both the monitoring and monitoring provisions, clearer linkages between those efforts and implementation practices would be helpful. Enhanced integration of the ''science'' and ''action'' elements of the bill would help ensure that conservation assistance is targeted in the most efficient and effective ways and that, conversely, the monitoring and modeling efforts are designed and adapted over time to support what will likely be changing management questions and needs. In addition, greater clarity regarding the purposes and uses of the monitoring and modeling programs may help to determine the most appropriate kinds of data restrictions, which are addressed elsewhere in the bill.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Funding. As currently written, H.R. 4013 does not include authorization of specific appropriations for any of the programs it seeks to establish. Additional funding will obviously be necessary. Identifying the specific funding that will be required to establish a monitoring network, develop models, and provide the necessary technical and financial support for conservation practices, will provide the context for scoping these efforts. In addition, securing the necessary appropriations will likely be challenging under any circumstances, but the likelihood of success will be enhanced if specific sums are authorized.
Use of Existing Coordination Mechanisms. Existing coordination mechanisms and decision-making processes should be used to the maximum extent possible. In particular, whatever Basin-level groups and processes are established by H.R. 4013 must be integrated with the coordination and decision-making processes already in place at the basin, State, and local levels.
Statement of Thomas A. Weber
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today and discuss the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000. I am Tom Weber, Deputy Chief for Programs, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA/NRCS). NRCS shares concerns with the health of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Basin is not only a defining geographic feature for much of the Midwest region, but also has vast natural resource impacts for much of the North American continent. The Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries provide direct water supplies to more than 24 million people and is a vital part of our Nation's transportation infrastructure, facilitating the shipment of agricultural products and other goods. The loss of nutrients and sediment in the basin has an enormous cost to the region. I want to commend Congressman Ron Kind for elevating this important legislation, and taking leadership on the issues.
NRCS shares the commitment to the conservation and protection of our Nation's natural resources, especially our soil and water resources. Reducing sediment and nutrients, along with other pollutants, that may originate as non-point source pollution on agricultural lands and woodlands is a primary goal of NRCS. For nearly seven decades, NRCS has served as the lead USDA agency for natural resource conservation activities on private working lands, working hand-in-hand with America's farmers and ranchers in addressing their natural resource concerns. Improving our soil resources and cleaning our surface and ground water resources has been a long and challenging, but sustained, effort since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930's. Through NRCS conservation programs we have made tremendous improvements in the health of our soil and the quality of our water. However, there is still more that must be done.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The administration supports many of the provisions of H.R. 4013; we especially appreciate the emphasis within the bill on expanding several of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation programs. The conservation of our Nation's natural resources is of great importance to USDA.H.R. 4013 would expand and increase funding for several USDA conservation programs. As you know, the President's proposed budget for fiscal year 2001 also requests similar increases in USDA conservation program areas in support of the administration's Farm Safety Net Initiative.
For example, the bill proposes that the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns, receive an increase from a fiscal year 2000 funding level of $174 million to $300 million in fiscal years 2001 and 2002. The legislation proposes a funding increase for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) of $25 million. In addition, the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which are acreage, not dollar driven programs, would receive acreage cap increases.
Although the increases proposed in the Upper Mississippi River Basin Conservation Act of 2000 are substantial and would help the overall conservation effort, it is important to note that many of these increases do not meet those in the President's 2001 budget proposal. For example, H.R. 4013 proposes an increase in the WRP acreage cap of 100,000 acres, increasing the cap from 975,000 acres to 1,075,000 acres. The President's request increases the program enrollment capabilities to 250,000 acres per year from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2010. The President's budget also proposes to increase EQIP by $25 million more per year than the H.R. 4013 proposal and provides $50 million annually for WHIP. Finally, the President's fiscal year 2001 budget proposes a new $600 million Conservation Security Program to provide annual payments to farmers and ranchers have who voluntarily implemented various conservation practices, many of which will benefit water quality.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC H.R. 4013 calls for the creation of an advisory body established by the Secretary of Agriculture. The Advisory Council on the Upper Mississippi River Stewardship Initiative would consist of 15 members appointed by the Governors of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. These appointees would represent State, local, and private interests. This council would be responsible for information sharing and coordinating the efforts of the involved Federal, State, local, and private interests.
USDA's involvement in similar partnerships has proven to be successful and we believe that such an advisory body would assist in resource conservation efforts in the basin as well as in providing long-term economic sustainability for the region. Through a locally led process we have found that the best solutions to natural resource problems truly are those that are developed locally by the landowners and land users themselves.
The Department has two areas of concern with the legislation. First, the legislation requires the Secretary to establish a grant program, in conjunction with non-Federal efforts, to demonstrate new best management practices.
Second, no new funding has been requested for this activity, any financial support for them might have to be redirected from ongoing Natural Resources Conservation Service programs at a time when the agency is already experiencing significant budgetary and workload pressures. Achieving the objectives of H.R. 4013 should not come at the expense of other ongoing activities. An alternative solution would be to authorize EQIP spending at $325 million, the level requested in the President's Budget, which would allow NRCS to provide additional educational assistance through activities such as demonstration projects.
The administration opposes title IV, which would prohibit the release or disclosure of information and data, collected pursuant to Federal conservation programs, to the public or any governmental agency outside the Department of Agriculture. Passage of title IV would make coordinated implementation of the wetlands provision of the Clean Water Act and the Swampbuster provisions of the Food Security Act extremely difficult. For example, under title IV, USDA would no longer be allowed to share its wetland delineations on agricultural lands with EPA or the Corps of Engineers, ending the coordinated implementation of these statues and implementation of administrative reforms that provide a single point of contact to farmers. In addition, title IV would undercut Federal and State programs designed to control the discharge of pollutants and the degradation of wetlands by routinely depriving government agencies and the public of critical information concerning wetlands delineations, land use, cropping histories, and prior crop land.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In summary, the bill contains concepts that the administration supports and could significantly benefit the economic and environmental health of the region. We look forward to working with members of this subcommittee to address some of the concerns we have raised as well as working toward implementation of the administration's fiscal year 2001 budget target for the programs that would assist the Upper Mississippi River Basin.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present this testimony. I will be pleased to answer any questions you and other members of the subcommittee might have.