2023 Farm Bill Priorities
Rivers run through every state. The U.S. has nearly 250,000 rivers stretching more than 3.5 million river miles. Millions of people rely on our nation’s network of rivers and waterways for food and commerce, yet about half of the U.S. waters are still too polluted for swimming, fishing, or drinking. Today, the impacts of climate change hit rivers and river communities first and worst in the form of droughts, floods, and waterborne diseases. The 2023 Farm Bill represents the single and most significant opportunity to address existing and emerging river health issues. Since 1933, the Farm Bill has been the most consistent source of federal programs supporting the implementation of conservation practices on agricultural lands and waters.
To ensure river communities have the chance to flourish, American River seeks to restore rivers and protect rivers by working with landowners and farmers to acquire the necessary funding, technical assistance, and capacity-building. This includes utilizing the latest science and technology to limit pollution at the source while expanding and improving innovative voluntary conservation measures. Farmers on the frontlines are our first responders to a changing climate. We know healthy rivers lead to healthy communities. Impediment to water quality and quantity needs to be addressed in partnership with farmers and landowners. A 2023 Farm Bill will provide climate-smart and equitable river protections and enhancements for everyone.
Our top priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill include the following:
- Prioritize floodplain easements and other nature-based solutions with multiple use benefits to address climate change.
- Promote the implementation of river and land management best practices paired with intentional and purposeful climate-smart goals.
- Support source water protection to reduce the risk of contamination to people, the environment, and wildlife.
- Increase drought resilience by enhancing water infrastructure to alleviate water shortages impacting vulnerable populations.
- Increase authorized levels of funding for programs that improve river health including water quality and quantity.
- Remove barriers to technical assistance and capacity-building.
- Increase funding for research and development on equitable and sustainable land and water stewardship.
- Assess safety of dams, levees, and reservoirs, and improve rehabilitation of infrastructure and safety assessments.
These priorities can be addressed through the Conservation, Forestry, Energy, Rural Development, and Research titles. The programs through which we would like to see changes and specific asks are explained below.
Prioritize floodplain easements and other nature-based solutions with multiple use benefits to address climate change.
- Fund flood damage reduction and floodplain easement programs annually through USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
- Establish a tracking and reporting system for floodplain easements within the Conservation Effects Assessment Project.
- Direct USDA to collaborate with economic experts to better understand and quantify the ecosystem services provided by functional floodplains.
- Ensure floodplain easements are not subject to land-tenure requirements.
- Direct USDA to collaborate with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prioritize investments in areas subject to recurring flood damages.
- Direct USDA to develop Best Management Practices to reduce flood damages in the agricultural sector.
- Direct USDA to improve guidance on floodplain restoration to meet multiple natural resource challenges.
- Require NRCS programs that plan and implement water resource development projects including the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program to develop agency-specific guidelines to implement the Principles, Requirements and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies (PR&G) and to require consideration of nature-based approaches when assessing project alternatives.
- Flood Resiliency and Taxpayer Savings Act of 2021
- Making Access to Cleanup Happen (MATCH) Act
- S.1361 – A bill to amend the Agricultural Credit Act of 1978 to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to provide for floodplain easement restoration and management, and for other purposes.
- S.116 – The Hurricanes of 2022 Disaster Relief Rectification Act
Promote the implementation of river and land management best practices paired with intentional and purposeful climate-smart goals.
- Congress should direct NRCS to require all states to adopt a soil health priority resource concern (PRC) along with a minimum of four to five other resource concerns.
- Congress should add Tribes to the list of entities defining Priority Resource Concerns.
- Limit concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) funding and require a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) to be in place before a CAFO can receive any cost share funding.
- Clarify language for agency implementation of the Watershed Management Entity – Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) project eligibility based on combining two or more Conservation Practice Standards (CSP) for irrigation efficiency improvements and fish or wildlife habitat improvement.
- Promote science-based forest management and nature-based approaches, including restoration of valley floor floodplains and associated wetlands and streams with upland forest thinning, prescribed burns, and other forest management actions.
Support source water protection to reduce the risk of contamination to people, the environment, and wildlife.
- Improve the Water Source Protection Program.
- Create a Clean Water Outcomes Matching Program within the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that would provide incentive to states to adopt outcomes-based water quality funds.
- Eliminate federal funding passed on to CAFOs through Farm Bill conservation programs. Currently, the EQIP program designates 50% of program funding for livestock, with much of that going to CAFOs.
- Reinstate automatic renewals for qualified farmers after their first CSP contract.
- CSP practices should receive 75 percent cost share, just as in EQIP.
- Codify a pathway from EQIP to CSP.
- Address PFAS contamination by removing or altering alter the provision in NRCS’s National Engineering Manual that prevents NRCS from working with hazardous substances with respect to any NRCS programs.
- Allow PFAS-contaminated land to be enrolled into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). 15-year standard CRP contracts with market-rate rental rates could be an option.
- Expand the Conservation Technical Assistance Program to provide support through NRCS or other contracted service providers to PFAS-impacted farmers to change their farm management practices due to varying levels of PFAS contamination.
Increase drought resilience by enhancing water infrastructure to alleviate water shortages impacting vulnerable populations.
- Strengthen the Watershed Condition Framework.
- To further reduce drought challenges, particularly in the West, provide a higher 85 percent cost-share rate for high-level, climate friendly conservation practices standards that are also drought-resilient.
- Ensure that EQIP funding for irrigation infrastructure addresses in-stream flows and consumptive use.
- Establish a priority for producer applications using EQIP to adopt native water-conserving crops, water-conserving crop rotations, and deficit irrigation in the Water Conservation portion of the program.
- Provide a higher cost-share of 85 percent for practices that effectively manage higher rainfall events that are becoming increasingly common across the country.
- Require a set-aside no less than 10 percent of funding for technical assistance and capacity building and include additional language for separate emergency response activities for the Water & Waste Disposal Technical Assistance and Training Grant Program.
- Require additional matching flexibility for the Water & Waste Disposal Predevelopment Planning Grant Program to include in-kind or waivers in cases of extreme need.
- Raise the income eligibility requirements from 60 percent of statewide median household income to up to 100 percent for the Rural Decentralized Water Systems Grant Program.
- Remove funding caps for the Solid Waste Management Grant Program.
- Authorize a flexible program for expanded capacity building and flexibility across all USDA-Rural Development mission areas, including adequate resources to implement modern plans, create jobs, and leverage new infrastructure development to increase the resiliency of rural communities.
- Rural Decentralized Water Systems Reauthorization Act
- S.1079 – Assistance for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023
- S.540 – Protect the West Act of 2023
Increase authorized levels of funding for programs that improve river health including water quality and quantity.
- Double conservation spending.
- Increase funding for ACEP to at least $700 million per year.
- Provide $500 million in annual baseline funding to the RCPP.Provide $2 billion per year to EQIP for new contracts over the life of the next Farm Bill.
- Provide $4 billion per year to CSP for new contracts over the life of the next Farm Bill.
Remove barriers to technical assistance and capacity-building.
- Reform the RCPP to streamline program administration, increase access to farmers and landowners, and reduce paperwork.
- Develop a new section of the Conservation Title to explicitly allow a Tribe or a group of Tribes within a state or region to develop traditional, ecological, knowledge-based (TEK) technical standards that will control the implementation of all conservation projects.
- Create a National Technical Committee that includes Tribal agency representatives to advise the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
- Increase the CSP and EQIP set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to 30 percent.
- Increase the technical assistance available to beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers by ensuring office, language, and program accessibility.
- Require NRCS to provide a report to all applicants to working lands conservation programs explaining how their application was ranked.
- The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) should be modernized to protect water quality and promote more diverse and sustainable cropping systems. This shift could help prepare farmers for the impacts of a changing climate, like drought and flooding, which in turn drive up costs of the program at taxpayers’ expense.
- Require NRCS to annually publish Conservation Title programs’ spending data and obligated funds data aggregated to the county level.
- Protect producer privacy while still providing public access to aggregated data that is an accurate reflection of spending under Conservation Title programs.
- Direct the NRCS to track implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) $20 billion for climate-smart agricultural practices through publicly accessible, aggregated data on Conservation Title program spending.
Increase funding for research and development on equitable and sustainable land and water stewardship.
- Prioritize climate research, including farmer-led research and innovation, through programs like the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.
- Prioritize research that helps small-scale, diversified farmers implement conservation practices and measure their climate mitigation impacts through methods with a proven track record of success.
- Ensure that research programs focus on and celebrate the contributions of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers.
- Develop science-based climate-smart agriculture definitions that prioritize practices that afford the greatest climate benefit, such as incorporating cover crops, perennial crops, managed grazing of perennial pasture, and other investments in soil health.
- Provide adequate funding for agricultural research agencies and programs such as the Conservation Innovation Grants, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the Economic Research Service, Climate Hubs, and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
- Within agricultural research funding, prioritize research opportunities on land access and water conservation to better understand the large-scale trends and challenges related to land and water conservation for beginning and BIPOC producers.
- Funding for research into the health risks and strategies for mitigating risks associated with chemical contaminants in water and food such as PFAS.
- Agriculture Innovation Act of 2023
- S.96 – Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2023
- H.R.2385 – ACE Agriculture Act
- H.R.2613 – Conservation and Innovative Climate Partnership Act of 2021
Assess the safety of dams, levees, and reservoirs, and improve rehabilitation of dam infrastructure.
- Support increased funding for dam rehabilitation of aging dams that are reaching the end of their 50-year design lives.
- Require GAO to develop an assessment of PL-566 dams under NRCS to determine which dams are no longer meeting their intended use purpose.
- Provide financial assistance in the form of grants and guaranteed loans to farmers, landowners, agricultural producers, and rural small businesses for purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements for hydropower.
Jaime D. Sigaran, Associate Director, Policy and Government Relations
Ted Illston, Vice President, Policy and Government Relations
Heather Taylor-Miesle, Senior Vice President, Advocacy and Regional Conservation
About American Rivers
American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on Rivers.