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Agriculture and Water Quality: A Climate-Integrated Perspective

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Abstract: Agricultural water pollution remains a serious problem that has not been mitigated on a nationwide scale despite four decades or more of effort. It has also been an intractable problem, in part due to the longstanding policy impasse about whether the best approach to the problem is to regulate farming practices more rigorously or to continue to encourage farmers to minimize their environmental impacts through education, public funding, and other voluntary programs. Climate change is likely to exacerbate the water quality effects of a range of agricultural practices and to increase other associated environmental problems as well. At the same time, climate change is likely to hurt U.S. agriculture itself, in ways both related to and entirely independent of environmental issues. As unsettling as those dual realizations may be, if we integrate the two issues, they provide an interesting opportunity to reframe the agricultural water pollution problem in a way that brings about an alignment of — rather than a conflict between — traditional agricultural and environmental interests. Some of the same strategies that will help farmers to withstand the production challenges presented by climate change, such as better pest management techniques, simultaneously could reduce the water pollution effects of those activities. Accordingly, reframing the agricultural water pollution issue from a climate-integrated perspective may increase our chance of finding viable solutions and overcoming the longstanding policy impasse in this area.

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