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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Oregon (Section 319I - 1994)

The Oregon Nonpoint Source Management Program is part of the state's clean water strategy. This issues-oriented program is organized statewide and by source categories. The program includes assessing waterbody conditions and causes, communicating needs and priorities to decisionmakers, solving problems, evaluating land use practices, and enforcing standards.

Nitrate Concentrations Foster Grassroots Actions

When nitrate concentrations exceeded the state's groundwater standards, Northern Malheur County in southeast Oregon was declared a groundwater management area under provisions of the Oregon Groundwater Protection Act. The Groundwater Protection Act directs that a committee be established to develop and implement an action plan to address the groundwater problems and prevent future problems. The committee includes representatives from state water quality, agriculture, and health agencies; federal agricultural agencies; the farming community; and local officials. Since 1990, nearly $700,000 of section 319 grant funds have been used to implement the action plan, with matching funds from federal, state, and private organizations and agencies.

The action plan strategies include developing:

  • Best management practices to control nitrate leaching to groundwater;
  • Education and outreach programs for the farming and general community about groundwater problems and the BMPs being developed to address them; and
  • Technical and financial assistance to help farmers adopt the BMPs into their operations.

Nitrogen application has been reduced in several ways. First, farmers learned that the fall nitrogen application was unnecessary and began to eliminate it. Then, a simple $30 soil test showed that in many cases residual nitrogen already in the soil is sufficient for crops--this often eliminates the need for a spring application. Although - initially unconvinced, one farmer agreed to apply nitrogen to only half a field--and saw no difference in the crops. Farmers are attracted to this BMP as much for its cost savings as for its potential to improve water quality.

Another way to reduce nitrogen is through crop rotation. Farmers are following crops that have poor nitrogen uptakes such as onions with deep rooted crops--such as wheat, barley, and sugar beets--that sop up the excess nitrogen. Wariness has been replaced by enthusiasm. Now that influential farmers are accepting the best management practices, others will follow. In addition to supporting BMP development, section 319 funds are supporting two positions at the Malheur County Soil and Water Conservation District. These staffers educate and assist the farming community and work one-on-one with farmers to design farmer management plans using new practices.

While monitoring will not show a reduced nitrogen level in the groundwater for several more years--existing nitrogen must work its way through the soil--no new nitrogen is being added to filter through to the groundwater. And more and more farmers are seeing the advantages in the new methods, both in water quality improvements and in their bottom lines. Education, outreach, and assistance to farmers has been key to the success using section 319 funds.

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