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Missouri's Farm Runoff Problem: It's Money Down The Drain

June 8, 2009

St. Louis, Mo. - Missouri could be using a federal program a lot more effectively to reduce farm runoff and improve water quality. That's the conclusion of a report from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit public health and environmental advocacy organization, on water pollution in ten states.

Runoff from farm fields pollutes lakes and streams that lead to the Mississippi River, which is a source of drinking water for thousands of Missouri residents. The report probes the use of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), providing financial and technical assistance to farmers who pledge to reduce runoff.

The problem, says Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, is that there's no system in place to measure whether EQIP is making a difference. She believes the money would be better spent on a coordinated effort that sets specific goals for pollution reduction and identifies which lakes and streams need the most attention.

"In order to show the taxpayers some environmental quality benefits, it really does need to be targeted."

The nutrient-rich runoff also contributes to the so-called "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico by choking oxygen out of the water, thereby threatening the health of one of the nation's largest fisheries.

To make matters worse, the Obama administration plans to cut farm conservation funding in the 2010 budget. For Missouri, that means receiving less than $15 million dollars, compared to its historical average of $22 million. It is all the more reason, says Smith, to spend the EQIP funds more wisely.

"And, as the EQIP budget gets smaller and smaller, it's even more and more important to target that for results."

If the incentive program fails to show improved water quality, Smith warns, federal regulations might be needed. The full report can be viewed online at www.ewg.org.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO