"Improving Water Quality / Sustaining Agriculture"
Water Stewardship was established to address the issue that decades of watershed-based pollution control practices are doing little to improve water quality and to reduce 'dead zones' in the Chesapeake Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agricultural operations is a major contributor to poor water quality. Water Stewardship aims to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus water pollution by implementing strategic and innovative approaches to nutrient management.
To do so, Water Stewardship will engage all segments of the food industry, animal and crop producers (farmers), food distributors, and food corporations. Water Stewardship will work with producers to establish Continuous Improvement Programs at individual farms to reduce nutrient loss and establish a systematic approach to best management practices.
Simultaneously, Water Stewardship will partner with food industry leaders and food distributors to create a corporate stewardship initiative to support the Continuous Improvement Programs and create a new food production ethic. Water Stewardship anticipates that the program will yield improved water quality as well as an enhanced environmental accountability throughout the food production system.
Nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture and other sources are causing algal blooms that result in oxygen-deprived "Dead Zones" in fresh and coastal waters throughout the United States. "Dead Zones" appear each summer in the Chesapeake Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi, making those areas unsuitable for aquatic life. Restoration efforts have not succeeded and suffer from a lack of accountability. An opportunity exists to reduce nutrient pollution through corporate engagement and improved policy effectiveness so that water quality goals can be achieved.
We are at a critical moment to better integrate water stewardship into corporate stewardship ethics. Food companies are concerned about loss of consumer confidence in the food system. While many concerns are health-related, they also recognize increased consumer interest in reduced environmental impacts from food production. The emergence of the "Corporate Social Responsibility" report as a shareholder expectation has made programs like the one proposed here important to the value of the company and its stock, which has further spurred interest by leading corporations. The model proposed by Water Stewardship Inc. (WSI) will demonstrate a strategy for the private sector to lead the way in restoring the water quality of America's fresh and coastal waters.
Participants in the WSI program will be positioning their business to take advantage of increasing supply chain expectations. Implemented, verified, and measurable conservation practices will enable producers to take advantage of revenue opportunities within ecosystem service markets and respond to any increase in regulatory standards.
WSI will partner with major food service, manufacturing and retail corporations to embed water quality improvement into their stewardship programs. Initially, WSI is developing partnerships with industry sustainability leaders, such as SYSCO Corporation and General Mills, to lead the pilot programs. Emphasis will be on water quality protection throughout the food industry supply chain. WSI will also identify and communicate policy and program changes needed to support this effort and ensure policy effectiveness.
WSI and corporate partners will work with suppliers and producers to help them reduce water quality impacts. Independent, third-party professionals will assist producers in developing Continuous Improvement Programs (CIPs) that will reduce nutrient losses 40% from a "conservation baseline" that includes basic nutrient and manure management and erosion control. The CIP will be based on a menu of conservation choices and documentable producer-initiated management change and innovation. WSI will review the CIPs to verify they can achieve their goals. Certified professionals, trained by WSI, will assess producer progress every two years and report CIP implementation progress to WSI. Reports will be confidential but will be shared with the producer's supplier and supply chain partners. Those achieving implementation targets will be recognized while producers failing to implement their CIP as scheduled will be placed under a remedial plan, with notice to their supplier and corporate partner. WSI will review the quality of their work before annual renewal of their contract. Annual meetings will be held nationally for suppliers and corporate partners and for producers in each pilot area to recognize outstanding suppliers/producers, review results, seek feedback and discuss future plans.
WSI will coordinate pilot programs in the Chesapeake Bay, the Illinois River of NW Arkansas, and the Minnesota River watersheds based on input from supplier, grower and stakeholder advisory groups in each watershed. WSI will also form a Watershed Stewardship Council with broad corporate, supplier and producer and stakeholder membership to share pilot program findings, discuss other water stewardship efforts and identify future industry stewardship needs, actions and directions. While producer information will be confidential, summary watershed data on performance and CIP/practice implementation will be made available to agencies and other interested parties. WSI will also publish annual progress reports.
The CIPs will reduce food system impacts on water quality beyond the baseline requirements of current regulatory and cost share programs. WSI's programs will make water quality stewardship an expectation of the food system supply chain. These outcomes, combined with wastewater, residential, air and industrial nutrient reduction efforts, can restore aquatic ecosystems in the U.S. and throughout the world.