Seeking third CREP in Minn. for water quality, habitat
Published 10:36 am Thursday, March 31, 2016
Fields, Rivers & Streams
Justin Hanson is the district manager of the Mower Soil & Water Conservation District and the administrator of the Cedar River Watershed District
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Ten years ago, Minnesota’s local Soil & Water Conservation Districts were rolling out the second chapter of a highly successful conservation initiative called the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, most commonly known as CREP.
While CREP had overwhelming success in the late 1990s, signups were not as prevalent in the second round, as the agricultural economy started climbing. Conservation took a back seat to increasing land values and commodity rates. Although projects were tough to come by, the ones we did were a significant success.
CREP’s second round in Minnesota came out after the Austin area’s historic 2004 flood. Local landowners offered up their land to become part of the solution. They worked with our local SWCDs and watershed districts to identify areas that could utilize CREP to establish flood-detention projects. Through this program, a 300-acre easement was established in the Turtle Creek Watershed, which drains into the Cedar River in southwest Austin. The largest project was constructed for water retention purposes.
At the time, the newly formed Cedar River Watershed District (started in 2007) also utilized CREP to initiate its flood-reduction program by partnering on several projects in the area.
Now the CRWD, Mower Soil & Water Conservation District and Turtle Creek Watershed District are working to bring back another round of CREP to our neighborhood and state. Our local entities are part of a large Minnesota coalition requesting a similar CREP initiative with Farm Service Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We are among the nearly 60 organizations and agencies, including the Minnesota Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts, calling on U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to expedite the review and approval of Minnesota’s latest CREP application.
This CREP proposal was submitted by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in December and is under review by the Farm Service Agency. The CREP proposal focused on prioritized and targeted acres that would provide the greatest water quality and habitat benefits, and it would fund the implementation of buffer filter strips, wetland restoration projects and wellhead protection efforts.
We want to enable Minnesota agricultural producers to take advantage of this opportunity to secure funding this summer for water quality and habitat improvement efforts on their farms.
Our goal is to restore 100,000 acres of grasslands and wetlands in 54 Minnesota counties — including Mower County — primarily to improve water quality and create wildlife habitat. This effort will use a science-based approach to achieve these goals.
Under RIM, marginal crop land is converted into prairie grasses and restored wetlands to help reduce flooding, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat. Funds are used to buy a permanent easement on the restored land, which remains privately owned but provides public benefits.
Staff with SWCDs, USDA Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service work with landowners and implement the program at the local level.
Locally, CRWD/Mower SWCD works aggressively through numerous programs and practices to improve water quality and reduce flooding. CREP will give us another powerful tool for working with ag landowners and producers to address their conservation needs and improve water quality.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by the CRWD booth during the Austin Home & Vacation Show this month. We enjoyed their interest, questions and feedback. Congratulations as well to Harlen Buck, of Hayfield, who won the kayak from our drawing at the booth during the weekend. Non-tax levy funds were used to purchase the kayak.
CRWD’s annual report and Mower SWCD’s newsletter now are available at our office and online.
Artists and photographers are wanted for submitting their work related to the Cedar River Watershed as part of an upcoming gallery from May 20 to July 9 at Austin ArtWorks Center. CRWD is co-sponsoring the gallery for art pieces showing water at a specific location in Minnesota’s Cedar River Watershedv. Work must be submitted for consideration to ArtWorks by no later than May 6.
Mower SWCD provides technical assistance to landowners with conservation practices that protect land and water resources. SWCD also performs the duties of the Cedar River Watershed District to improve water quality and reduce flooding. This monthly column by Mower SWCD/CRWD typically runs the last Thursday of each month. For more, visit the Mower SWCD and CRWD websites and Facebook pages. Questions and comments can be sent to email@example.com.