New legislation aims to balance groundwater conservation and agricultural productivity

EDGEFIELD, SC — Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico introduced new bipartisan legislation in the form of the Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act on July 11. This legislation is intended to strike a balance between conserving vital groundwater resources while allowing farmers to maintain continued productivity on their farmland.

The Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act establishes a new voluntary groundwater easement program within the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program, which operates under the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

This conservation easement program is driven by an innovative approach based on the experience of Colorado Open Lands, a leader in conservation easements that signed the first groundwater easement in 2022 for the Rio Grande Basin. As a result, it provides agricultural producers with greater options and flexibility to conserve and manage groundwater resources effectively.

“This Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act adds to the benefits of traditional conservation easements that keep agricultural producers and agriculture in production, help restore declining aquifers, and help provide habitat for wildlife,” said Travis Smith, NWTF Western Water Specialist.

In essence, the Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act is intended to encourage voluntary and compensated reductions in groundwater consumption on agricultural land, while furthering local, regional, and/or state groundwater management objectives. The law also offers additional benefits to participating producers, such as the reimbursement of their transaction costs and the guarantee of long-term management flexibility.

In addition, the law clarifies that easement funds will not be considered part of a farm’s adjusted gross income, ensuring that farmers can fully benefit from participating in the program. High-income producers have the option of applying for a waiver to participate in the conservation easement program.

For more complete information and specific details on the Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Law, read more here.

This conservation easement is of immense importance, as it plays a crucial role in conserving our natural resources and alleviating pressure on aquifers within these states. Doing so will conserve water for future generations, ensuring a sustainable supply for the farms and ranches that depend on it.

The NWTF recognizes that this forward-looking legislation will extend significant benefits to wildlife within the landscape. Declining aquifers have dried up these areas, taking with them important wildlife habitats. As private land constitutes a substantial portion of the habitat for numerous species of wildlife, the Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act will have considerable implications for wildlife conservation.

“Here in Colorado, more than 75% of winter habitat for big game is on private land,” Smith said. “Moose and deer move away from the highlands because of the snow, and move to the ranches.”

The importance of this legislation is highlighted by the emphasis on encouraging private farmers and ranchers to actively participate in conservation efforts. Your participation is crucial to ensuring the continuation of wild turkey and other wildlife populations in the landscape, safeguarding our hunting heritage for generations to come.

The Voluntary Groundwater Conservation Act has gained broad support from a wide and diverse range of partners who recognize its potential to generate positive impacts on communities, water users, ecosystem health, and local economies. Overall, the legislation presents an innovative approach to protecting our natural resources, promoting agricultural productivity, and ensuring the well-being of human and wildlife communities for a prosperous and resilient future.

About the National Wild Turkey Federation

Since 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation has invested more than half a billion dollars in wildlife conservation and has conserved or improved more than 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. The organization continues to advance wildlife conservation, forest resiliency, and robust recreational opportunities across the US by working beyond borders at the landscape scale.

2023 is the 50th of the NWTFhe Anniversary and an opportunity to push the organization’s mission into the future while honoring its rich history. for his 50he Anniversary, the NWTF has set six ambitious goals: positively impact 1 million acres of wildlife habitat; raise $500,000 for wild turkey research; increase membership to 250,000 members; dedicate $1 million to education and outreach programs; raise $5 million to invest in technology and the people of NWTF; and raise $5 million to build a $50 million endowment for the future. Learn how you can help us achieve these lofty goals.