Community-Based Efforts Solve Local Water Quality Problems

Aug. 21, 2001

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) own analysis, draft rules addressing runoff from confined animal feeding operations likely will impose large costs on American agriculture and consumers without providing significant benefits.

"By EPA's own estimates, the rule will impose costs in excess of benefits of $664 to $803 million per year," said Susan Dudley, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The Mercatus Center is an education, research and outreach program that works with scholars, policy experts and government officials to bridge academic theory and real-world practice.

In a public interest comment submitted to the EPA, Sean Blacklocke also pointed out that states actually have assessed and attributed water pollution to agricultural runoff in only 4.7 percent of U.S. rivers and streams, and 5.8 percent of U.S. lakes. Reports by states of reduced water quality as a result of animal feeding operations indicate that less than 1 percent of rivers, streams and lakes in the United States actually have been harmed by animal feeding operations.

"EPA is setting uniform national standards based in large part on anecdotal evidence," said Dudley.

While EPA data do reveal confirmed animal feeding operations cause water quality problems in certain watersheds, the data it presents do no warrant a blanket, nationwide regulation, Blacklocke said. Instead, he recommends that EPA address animal feeding operations issues by

• Increasing efforts to promote community-based water quality management in U.S. watersheds affected by the operations.

•Addressing the scientific deficiencies that currently inhibit the development of more efficient and effective pollutant prevention and reduction strategies.

Blacklocke concluded, "EPA could improve water quality and public health at significantly lower costs if, instead of command-and-control regulations, it advocated community-based solutions and focused on site-specific analysis and market incentives."

Source: Mercatus Center, George Mason University