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Conservation Plans in Agriculture

May 2001

Citation: ELR 10501

Author: John H. Davidson

Through the post-World War II era the U.S. Congress, by an incremental process of experimentation and error, developed the knowledge and experience that led to the imposition of individual permits based on uniform technology-based effluent limitations to regulate industrial water pollution. The resulting permit system has gradually reduced the amount of industrial pollution that enters our national waterways. While this encouraging process proceeds, however, unpermitted and unregulated runoff from farm, ranch, forest, and recreational lands—the now familiar nonpoint sources—remains an unsolved problem.1

Just as the uniform technology-based standards once emerged gradually as a tool for controlling industrial point sources, a device known generally as the "conservation plan" may be emerging as the possible instrument of choice for controlling nonpoint source runoff. If this is so, the concept requires close examination prior to general acceptance, in order that our waterways do not endure yet another generation of failed efforts at nonpoint runoff control. This brief Article attempts an introduction, and a first brush at the issues. It urges that leaders of the agricultural, forestry, environmental, and conservation communities examine carefully the "conservation plan" concept prior to accepting it as the control tool of choice.

The author is a professor at the University of South Dakota, School of Law.