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Collaboratively Seek New Funding Opportunities

While being more strategic in spending existing resources is critical, existing funding is insufficient to achieve our water quality goals. New funding opportunities must be sought. A unified, collaboratively developed funding strategy offers the best chance for success.

Conference attendees identified several potential new funding sources to meet clean water goals in agriculture.

One of these was a water use fee whereby large consumptive water users already regulated would pay a surcharge to generate dedicated funds for technical assistance staff and conservation practices. Last session, HB 2114 was introduced by Representative Mike Sturla, a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which would charge a .001 cent per gallon fee on non-agricultural, non-municipal water usage over 10,000 gallons a day. It is estimated this would generate $250 million annually for clean water improvement.

In considering new funding sources, developing a truly dedicated fund for agricultural technical assistance and conservation practice implementation was a priority for participants. “We need to make sure the lock box is truly locked and not diverted to other projects,” said one.

Many participants supported exploration of private funding—both foundations and corporations. With respect to foundations, some noted that while the western and eastern parts of the state have large foundations that contribute to environmental causes, the Susquehanna basin has a dearth of such private funding sources. Continued efforts to build relationships with the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network and Maryland-based foundations were suggested.

Participants mentioned various corporate and industry funding opportunities. These included the oil and gas industry (it was noted that the Upper Susquehanna region has had some success in tapping into these sources), power companies, particularly through power plant relicensing, and agricultural based industries such as fertilizer or seed companies.

Both private and municipal drinking water suppliers were also mentioned as funding partners, particularly where investment in ag conservation can be tied to source water protection. While government agencies such as EPA, USDA and DEP are traditionally considered in funding water quality improvements in agriculture, the US Department of Interior is an often overlooked source of funding, noted one participant. Government action to leverage private dollars for conservation was also suggested; for example, using penalty dollars from environmental violations to fund restoration projects.

Development of a traditional public fundraising campaign was also discussed, whereby the public contributes directly to a cause they care about. If multiple partners worked together to develop and run such a campaign strategically, it could achieve success, said participants. “People want to fix problems,” noted one participant. “They don’t trust the government to do it for them.” A classic fundraising campaign—whereby individuals are asked to make small contributions, at the grocery store, restaurants, businesses, online—could generate significant funds for conservation. Linking consumer preferences to “clean water produced food” could be part of such efforts, it was noted.

With respect to all of these fundraising efforts, there was strong support for the formation of a diverse and inclusive coalition to develop and campaign for a collaborative new water quality funding strategy. The composition of this coalition may be different than environmental funding coalitions have traditionally been and could include not only nonprofit conservation organizations, conservation districts and resource agencies, but many interests in agriculture, including producers, industry groups, and the food production sector, along with universities, water suppliers, and urban and rural communities. 

Such a coalition would have broad, bipartisan appeal. It would need to work collaboratively, in complement to, or as part of existing coalitions in place for similar funding efforts, such as the Growing Greener Coalition which over the last several years has sought support for passage of a Growing Greener III program, which could greatly benefit agricultural water quality efforts.

Participants also recognized traditional competitive grant programs as often counterproductive, pitting many small organizations with commons goals and objectives against each other for limited pieces of the funding pie. It was noted that if a large coalition could be developed with a joint vision for how to collaboratively and effectively utilize large amounts of funding, this might be an attractive and ultimately more successful way of seeking, obtaining and utilizing new funding than the traditional grant driven approach. A thoughtful approach to this would be useful, bearing in mind that the allocation of limited public funds does require a mechanism for equitable distribution.

This strategy could downscale itself to a regional approach, whereby regional coalitions are cultivated, developed and funded in priority areas and which can employ local leadership, flexibility and efficiency in spending dollars to achieve positive conservation outcomes. The Upper Susquehanna Coalition was mentioned as a successful example of this approach, where nineteen soil and water conservation districts (sixteen in New York, three in Pennsylvania), work together to pool resources, share expertise and collaboratively achieve greater conservation implementation across the region.