The PlanSector

Inputs

Goal 3

Sufficient supplies of clean water will be available for food system needs, and water pollution will be reduced.

Image courtesy of John Phelan, Wikimedia Commons

Unlike California and its historic drought, Massachusetts currently receives sufficient precipitation to meet most needs. As a result, Massachusetts has so far not had to deal with severe droughts and the political disputes and legal challenges over water allocations and water rights that can accompany such situations. Although the Massachusetts receives sufficient precipitation for our current needs, irrigation is playing an increased role in Massachusetts agriculture, with the number of farms using irrigation doubling between 1974 and 2012.1 The cranberry bogs in Plymouth County, in particular, account for the majority of lands irrigated.2 With nursery and greenhouse crops increasing, UMass Extension expects to see increasing amounts of irrigation. In addition, water is essential for several parts of food processing, and a significant quantity of water is used for washing, cleaning, running equipment, and sanitizing food processing facilities.

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Recommendations

  1. 3.1 Research existing and anticipated water needs for maintaining and growing the food system.
    1. Actions:
    2. 3.1.1 Develop a baseline for how much water is currently being used by the agricultural sector, research likely future needs given projections related to climate change, and target policies based on research findings.
  2. 3.2 Provide increased incentives and technical assistance to farmers and other food system businesses for adopting water conservation practices.
    1. Actions:
    2. 3.2.1 Develop and disseminate guidelines on voluntary on-farm water conservation best practices.
    3. 3.2.2 Provide the resources and technical assistance needed to help farmers adapt to increased impacts from flooding, drought, and other expected impacts of climate change.
    4. 3.2.3 Increase utilization of NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds by allowing regionally-appropriate practices and providing assistance with the application process.
    5. 3.2.4 Increase municipal solutions for more water conservation, including targeted property- and home-owner education, in urban, suburban, and rural areas.
    6. 3.2.5 Provide technical assistance to food processors on water conservation practices and technologies.
    7. 3.2.6 Ensure water conservation practices are called for in lease agreements for state- and town-owned land used for agriculture.
    8. 3.2.7 Create demonstration areas or pilot projects where cisterns or other water catchment systems are incorporated into the farm landscape and farming system, particularly in urban environments. Provide technical assistance to size the water harvesting devices and incentives or grants for incorporating water harvesting techniques.
  3. 3.3 Reduce water pollution from the food system, especially through incentives and increased technical assistance.
    1. Actions:
    2. 3.3.1 Expand research to identify and fill gaps in the literature about the level of non-point source water pollution that agricultural activities can generate.
    3. 3.3.2 Provide more resources and introduce regionally-appropriate program reforms to improve water quality. The NRCS, UMass Extension, and non-profits should provide additional technical assistance and resources.
    4. 3.3.3 Provide technical and financial support to farmers for irrigation and waste water testing, to assist in compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations and USDA’s Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certification.
    5. 3.3.4 Provide more technical support to urban farmers on water quality impacts from urban farming.
    6. 3.3.5 Include a representative from the urban farming sector on the NRCS’ State Technical Committee to represent the particular needs of the Massachusetts urban farming sector.
    7. 3.3.6 Research the impact that urban agriculture has on stormwater runoff reduction and treatment.
    8. 3.3.7 Develop a model ordinance to exempt urban farms from sewerage fees.
    9. 3.3.8 Streamline water connection requirements for urban farms, eliminating unnecessary requirements and reducing connection costs.
    10. 3.3.9 Change municipal ordinances to allow and encourage water catchment systems and other green infrastructure on urban farms.
    11. 3.3.10 Consider changes to Mass DEP’s Groundwater Discharge Permitting regulations that would exempt farms from needing a groundwater discharge permit for farm waste provided they adhere to MDAR and NRCS best practices.
    12. 3.3.11 Mass DEP and MDAR should continue to implement the “Regulatory Certainty” effort.