Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:00 AM
Funds will be used to help farmers reduce runoff
By SEAN ELLIS
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled a new program May 8 that seeks to enlist farmers to help tackle some of the nation's toughest water quality challenges.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service's Water Quality Improvement Initiative will offer farmers a total of $33 million in financial assistance to adopt farming practices that improve water quality in endangered watersheds by reducing runoff from fields.
That could include installing drip or sprinkler irrigation systems, planting cover crops, installing stream bank protection, modifying crop rotations and managing nutrient applications.
During a media telephone conference where the new program was outlined, Vilsack said he expects the program to have a significant impact.
"When a large number of farmers take action together in a watershed, it can and will make a difference."
The initiative is designed to help states address excessive sediments, and excessive nutrients and organic matter in surface water.
In Idaho, the NRCS will work with private landowners in three targeted watersheds that drain into the Boise River from Lake Lowell near Nampa to the Idaho-Oregon border. The watersheds are the Dixie Slough near Greenleaf and Caldwell, the Outlet Boise River near Notus and Lower Sand Hollow Creek near Parma.
The targeted watersheds in Idaho are on the Environmental Protection Agency's impaired waterway list and have high concentrations of nitrates, phosphorus and sediments, said Idaho NRCS State Conservationist Jeff Burwell.
Burwell said the best way to clean up that stretch of the Boise is by collaborating with farmers, not through regulatory mechanisms.
"If we're going to make a difference in those watersheds, it has to come through that voluntary approach," he said.
In Oregon, $452,000 has been dedicated to the program and the targeted watersheds are the adjoining Little Willow Creek and Poison Creek watersheds in Malheur County, the Brandy Creek-Pudding River watershed in Marion County, and Upper Fifteen Mile Creek watershed in Wasco County.
In California, USDA will invest $2.5 million in the program and will target these watersheds: Calleguas Creek/Revlon Slough and Calleguas Creek/Town of Nyland in Ventura County; Big Navarro Garcia/Upper Garcia River and Big Navarro Garcia/Middle Garcia River in Mendocino County; and Lower Eel/Salt River in Humboldt County.
Washington's program will spend $523,000 and target the lower, middle and upper forks of the South Fork Palouse River watershed in eastern Washington.