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WHEREAS, water is the lifeblood of the agricultural industry, and agricultural access to adequate water supply is a critical concern for New Jersey’s farmers; and this need is especially urgent during periods of drought when restrictions on water use could catastrophically affect farm income for the production year; and

WHEREAS, even absent drought conditions, ensuring an adequate water supply, both now and in the future, is essential to protecting the production capability and economic stability of agriculture; and

WHEREAS, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) established an Agricultural Water Working Group that includes members of the Department of Agriculture, Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE), and the Agricultural Experiment Station, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Geological Survey, New Jersey Farm Bureau and the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP); the mission of the working group is to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on the water needs of agriculture and to assist in the development of essential rules, policies and guidelines to ensure that there will be an adequate water supply to meet the current and future needs of New Jersey’s agricultural industry; and

WHEREAS, the working group has been successful in establishing an on-going dialogue between the agencies and organizations that regulate, and advocate for, agricultural water; including NJDEP Bureau of Water Allocation staff, county agricultural agents, the State Board of Agriculture, department staff and others to help resolve some ongoing water allocation procedural issues and to provide insight into the NJDEP’s water allocation decision-making process; and

WHEREAS, during 2005, most of the backlog was cleared through the implementation of a strategic plan developed by the NJDEP Bureau of Water Allocation that focused on expediting the processing of applications; and

WHEREAS, the Department is also working with the NJDEP to restore some of the agricultural water allocations in the restricted water supply areas in Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester Counties; however, despite the efforts of the working group, agricultural water concerns still persist; and

WHEREAS, New Jersey’s farmers face increasing water supply restrictions, particularly in Critical Areas 1 and 2; and many agricultural water certifications are being subjected to reductions in their allocations based upon actual water usage; and

WHEREAS, the present water demands of agriculture represent approximately six percent of the state’s total water demand in the state; and the long-term water needs of New Jersey’s agricultural community must be equally considered during the ongoing Water Supply Master Planning process; and

WHEREAS, the NJDA prepared comments outlining agriculture’s concerns with the proposed and adopted amendments to the NJDEP’s Agricultural, Aquacultural and Horticultural Water Usage Certification Rules and met several times with Division of Water Supply staff in conjunction with RCE to discuss those concerns; and

WHEREAS, the agricultural community’s concerns with the adopted rule changes continue to be the Delaware River Basin Commission’s filing requirement and the possibility of administrative and water usage fees; and

WHEREAS, other water authorities are also imposing rate changes and assessments to water users who request modifications to their existing water allocation permits or request new water allocation permits in areas under the authority’s jurisdiction.  

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 93rd State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 6, 2008, call upon the Department of Agriculture to continue working with the Department of Environmental Protection to address water supply and water quality issues by continuing to participate in the NJDEP’s Statewide Water Supply Master Plan process and by strategically planning and promoting the implementation of federal and state conservation cost-share programs.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the efforts of the Agricultural Water Working Group, and encourage them to continue their work on behalf of New Jersey’s agricultural community.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we request the NJDEP to ensure that they plan for adequate water resources for New Jersey’s farmers, realizing that such planning is critical to overall farm management. 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we request the NJDEP to amend their water allocation restrictions to exempt farming operations that have already implemented water management practices and reduced their water consumption from further water allocation reductions.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we request the NJDA and NJDEP to explore the establishment of an Agricultural Water Allocation Credit Program, whereby farmers who employ water conservation practices that utilize water at a rate that is below their permit allocations at certain times, be permitted to correspondingly increase water use at other times.  Such a program would encourage the implementation of water conservation measures within the agricultural community and improve the viability of the agricultural industry by allowing water usage to be tailored to fit the needs of each agricultural operation.  We also request that all agricultural water use authorizations that are reverted back to the NJDEP be set aside for agricultural use only.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NJDA should work with the NJDEP to ensure that all water-related plans, policies and programs of the state recognize the critical role that farmland plays in providing recharge of water to underlying aquifer systems and surface water supplies.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support legislation that aids the nursery and landscape industry in establishing a drought emergency protocol for implementation of predictable, effective and sound restrictions for future emergencies and working on this protocol with the nursery and landscape industry, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department’s Agricultural Water Working Group prior to future drought emergencies.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we insist that the NJDEP consider the needs of agricultural operations when developing policies and programs that involve water quality issues, such as stormwater management and impervious coverage limitations. 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we encourage producers to use water conservation technologies and to utilize any available state and federal cost-share grants to implement such measures and continue to look for new and efficient methods to conserve water on farms, including drip irrigation, water recapture and reuse, and enhanced on-farm water storage techniques.