NGWA comments on groundwater effects of USDA agriculture and climate questions

May 4, 2021

NGWA provided comments on April 29 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Notice of Request for Public Comment on the Presidential Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.

This executive order laid out a series of actions for federal agencies to take regarding climate change mitigation and resilience, including directing the secretary of agriculture to collect stakeholder input on a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy.

NGWA assembled a review panel and prepared comments to the USDA including the following.

  • NGWA’s white paper recognizes that changing climate necessitates response for the nation’s public health, wellbeing, and economy. [1]
  • From a groundwater perspective, the focus of agricultural programs, funding, and financing capacities and other authorities should be on sustainability of the resource through efficient use of water for irrigation and on effective chemical practices that minimize groundwater quality impacts. Steps should minimize greenhouse gas emissions and facilitate the resilience and availability of the resource [2] and mitigate the negative effects of demand. Greenhouse gas outputs of key inputs, such as groundwater, will need research under a range of scenarios.
  • The USDA should establish a monitoring network for forest and rural lands and work with the National Ground-Water Monitoring Network to report data on groundwater levels and quality.
  • The effect on groundwater availability should be an aspect of this analysis, including greenhouse gas-effects from a range of pumping-agricultural production scenarios. Consideration should be given to renewable energy sources for pumping groundwater where it is plentiful.
  • USDA policy should support innovation and technologies that use renewable energy to power small-scale groundwater supply and wastewater treatment for rural businesses to provide adequate water supply and reduce surface and groundwater contamination.
  • USDA can identify agricultural practices drawing on groundwater that would minimize greenhouse gas emissions, publish on these peer-reviewed practices, and broadly circulate and demonstrate these practices and incorporate them in extension service educational programs.
  • USDA should set up educating processes at all levels about smart agricultural practices and partner with The Groundwater Foundation to educate groundwater communities about climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices and their effects on water supply and quality.
  • USDA can set up priority-setting processes addressing wildfire risk. Wildfires affect infiltration potential and consequent groundwater recharge [3] as well as influencing groundwater quality. [4]
  • Ninety-nine percent of rural homeowners are groundwater-supplied by private wells. Two-thirds of all public community water systems are small groundwater systems serving 3300 or fewer people, often in rural areas and having fewer fiscal, managerial, and technical capabilities. Continued protection of recharge zones supplying wells to enable these areas’ capacities to infiltrate precipitation and prevent contamination of groundwater is essential.

Click here to read NGWA’s comments to the USDA.


[1] National Ground Water Association. 2016. Groundwater Protection and Management Critical to the Global Climate Change Discussion. Position Paper.

[2] Kelly, M. 2020. Expansion, environmental impacts of irrigation by 2050 greatly underestimated. Princeton (University) Environmental Institute.

[3] Paige, G. and Zygmunt, J. 2012. The science behind wildfire effects on water quality, erosion. In Living with Wildfire in Wyoming. University of Wyoming.,the%20mineral%20soil%20surface%20to%20raindrop%20impact%20and; Giambastiani, B.; Greggio, N.; Nobili, G.; Dinelli, E.; Antonellini, M. 2018. Forest fire effects on groundwater in a coastal aquifer (Ravenna, Italy). In Hydrological Processes.

[4] Mansilha, C.; Melo, A.; Martins, Z.; Ferreira, I.; Pereira, A.M.; Marques, J. 2020. Wildfire Effects on Groundwater Quality from Springs Connected to Small Public Supply Systems in a Peri-Urban Forest Area (Braga Region, NW Portugal). Water 2020, 12(4), 1146;