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Improving Water Quality (3 of 3)

Overcoming Barriers to Better Targeting of U.S. Farm Conservation Funds

This issue brief identifies the technical, political, and implementation challenges of cost-effectively targeting agricultural conservation funds to achieve greater improvements in water quality and suggests options for addressing these challenges.

This publication is the third in a...

Overcoming Barriers to USDA’s New Conservation Program

For more than 30 years, the USDA has worked to reduce water pollution by offering farmers throughout the nation financial and technical help to put conservation measures in place. While these efforts have successfully addressed environmental problems at the individual farm level—such as soil erosion—agriculture remains a key source of water pollution.

However, it’s only a small portion of farms that generate the majority of agriculture’s contribution to U.S. water pollution. New research shows that targeting conservation funds to these farms with the most potential to reduce pollution could be up to 12 times more cost effective than the usual practice of disbursing funds widely. And encouragingly, a new USDA program aims to capitalize on a similar targeted approach.

Providing guidance on how to better target agricultural conservation in the United States, to cost-effectively achieve measurable improvements in water quality.

Water Stress Magnifies Drought’s Negative Impacts throughout the United States

Years of Living Dangerously, a new Showtime series about climate change, turned its lens on how drought devastated the small town of Plainview, Texas in its first episode. In Plainview—and every other drought-stricken place across the United States—a precipitous drop in rainfall is only part of a much broader story. Underlying water stress is one important piece of that complicated puzzle. When drought strikes where baseline water stress is high, it exacerbates regions’ water woes.

Drought Is Only One Explanation for California’s Water Crisis

As California lawmakers move forward with potential solutions to the state’s current water shortage, it’s important to consider the full context of underlying reasons for California’s water vulnerability.

Our research shows that about 66 percent of the state’s irrigated agriculture—its biggest water user—faces extremely high levels of baseline water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the available water supply is already being used by farms, homes, businesses, and energy producers. It’s clear that even without drought, the state would be in trouble.

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