February 1, 2008

As the nation focuses on protecting the environment, agricultural producers can be at the forefront of the movement by running environmentally friendly and economically savvy operations, which include having an effective water quality plan, said Amanda Abnee Gumbert, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture extension specialist for water quality.

“There are a lot of things as individuals, farmers and land managers that we can do to protect the environment,” Gumbert said. “Most of these practices ultimately result in improved water quality.”

The majority of the state, with the exception of the far-reaching portions of western Kentucky, uses surface water as its primary source of drinking water. This water has to go through an extreme amount of treatment before it is safe for human consumption, Gumbert said. Improved water quality could help cut costs at treatment facilities because cleaner water will not need as many treatments before it can be consumed.

The Kentucky legislature passed the Agriculture Water Quality Act in 1994, and it was implemented in 2001. The act requires all landowners who own 10 or more acres of land that is used for agriculture or silviculture operations to develop a water quality plan. However, this law has not been readily enforced, most likely because it was originally presented as voluntary measure to landowners, Gumbert said. She added that a water quality plan is necessary to protect the environment and participate in state and federal cost share programs.

Developing a water quality plan may seem like a lengthy, complicated task, but it is not as difficult as some may think. Gumbert said most of the items included in the plan are common sense practices and will save farmers money in future years. Many farmers already are using good water quality practices, such as rotational grazing, and do not realize it, she said.

“A water quality plan is about looking at what a farmer is currently doing and making necessary changes that will result in environmental benefits,” Gumbert said. “These often lead to economical benefits too.”

She said farmers can also avoid burning trash on their property to improve water quality because the chemicals released during the burning process can pollute the air, land and water.

Farmers should also effectively manage chemicals, which are used in some farming operations, to ensure they do not come in contact with waterways.

Ashley Osborne, UK extension associate for environmental and natural resource issues, said farmers can consider Best Management Practices, such as installing filter stripes, utilizing grassed waterways and creating stream buffers, when creating a water quality plan. These practices can decrease the amount of pollution entering ponds, streams and other water bodies.

More information on Best Management Practices is available on the UK Environmental and Natural Resources Issues Web site

To get help developing a water quality plan, speak with a county agriculture and natural resources Cooperative Extension agent or contact your local conservation district. UK is in the process of updating its water quality Web site to make it more user-friendly. Gumbert said the update should be completed by spring and is another tool for landowners who want to improve water quality on their properties.

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