According to a new report titled "Water Quality and Agriculture: Meeting the Policy Challenge" from the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation and Development (OECD), OECD governments have made little progress in reducing water contamination from farming over the past decade. OECD elaborates, "Not only are pollutant levels high in many areas but sources of contamination are often spread widely across the landscape, making measurement and control difficult."
OECD also notes that this costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year, besides the cost to the environment. And the risks of water pollution are only expected to grow in the years ahead due to the rise in commodity prices which have encouraged intensive production. The report also says "even where low-pollution management systems have been adopted, there is sometimes a considerable time lag before water quality improves."
But OECD also reminds readers to keep the scale of the damage caused to water via agriculture in perspective, as the quality of drinking water in most OECD countries is high and farming is not the lone culprit.
The report says policymakers' "key challenge" is to "reduce farm contaminants -- nutrients, pesticides, soil sediments and veterinary products -- which are lost into water systems, while encouraging higher water quality for recreational and other uses."
The report also says that past policies to help farmers handle pollution have generally failed, so more effective policies are needed. More specifically, the report makes the following recommendations:
- Enforcing compliance with existing water quality regulations and standards.
- Removing production and input-related support in agriculture in order to lower pressure on water systems.
- Using a mix of policy instruments.
- Adopting the Polluter Pays Principle to reduce agricultural water contamination where practical.
- Setting realistic water policy targets and standards for agriculture.
- Improving the targeting of policies to areas where water pollution is most acute.
- Assessing the cost effectiveness of different policy options to improve water quality.
- Taking a holistic approach to agricultural pollution policies.
- Establishing information systems to better support farmers, water managers and policymakers.
The report, as well as a number of background papers, are available here.