Why does the food system need Water Stewards?
Nutrient pollution from urban and agricultural runoff is considered the biggest source of water pollution both globally and in the U.S. Many of the rivers and coastal areas in this country suffer from nutrient pollution from excess nitrogen and phosphorous loads from sewage, farms, pet waste, suburban lawns, and other sources.. Industrial facilities and wastewater treatment plants are regulated for these pollutants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but non-point sources, such as farms, are difficult to monitor and control.
To assist farmers in reducing the amount of nutrients that run off their land into local waterways, a variety of conservation programs run by state and federal agencies provide financial and technical assistance to implement best management practices (BMPs). Many states have set goals to reduce nutrient runoff on farms by 40-70 percent, but it has proven difficult for individual farms to translate these broad goals into individual action plans that will restore inland and coastal waters.
Water Stewardship Incorporated (WSI) uses over 100 years of agricultural and environmental experience to provide farms with an assessment and continuous improvement program. Farms that are committed to achieving water quality protection goals and have met the reduction targets set by their respective states have earned the WSI Water Stewards label for their products.
What is the Water Stewards label?
Water Stewards is a performance-based certification as opposed to a process-based certification, like the "organic" standard. The WSI program is concerned with the effect a farm has on water quality, not the types of processes employed on the farm. Conventional agriculture represents over 90 percent of food production in the U.S. WSI believes that it is important to reward conventional operations that have proven they can operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. Only by improving the performance of conventional farms can inland and coastal waters be restored to their full ecological function.
The Water Stewardship Certification only certifies verified performance and continuous improvement with respect to water quality. It is not intended to and does not imply anything about the quality of the product, their production methods related to animal care and welfare, product/food safety, worker standards or any other aspect of production, processing and sales of the product.
Criteria for WSI Eco-label
- A farm must have made significant progress in conservation implementation and sign a commitment to meet state goals for water quality protection of local and coastal waters
- For example, all of the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have established nutrient reduction goals for agriculture. These goals are meant to restore the ecological function of the Chesapeake Bay.
- A farm's nutrient-runoff reduction targets are highly aggressive, and the BMPs required for an individual farm represent significant changes to land use and management systems. The Water Stewards label is recognition of the dedication of farms to protect the nation's natural resources and allows consumers to reward these efforts through the marketplace.
WSI verifies progress for Water Stewards on an annual basis and reserves the right to rescind the Water Stewards label if a farm is not fulfilling their obligations as agreed upon in their Continuous Improvement Program (CIP).