Recent rains underline value of conservation assistance

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PEGGY BLACKMON
Are you losing soil? Are gullies forming? Do your cattle need a better or alternative water source? Do you need to move cattle from a stream? Is your septic system failing? Are you farming marginal crop ground, and wondering, is it really worth the cost for what it provides in production?

These concerns and others can be addressed through a conservation plan. A conservation plan is a record of your decisions concerning how you plan to manage the natural resources on your land. It is your plan, based on your goals.

Through the Water Restoration & Protection Action Strategy (WRAPS) project at Marion Reservoir, and the “high priority” total maximum daily load (TMDL) designation of the watershed, more cost-share funding is available for implementing conservation practices.

TMDL is the amount of a particular pollutant that a stream, lake or other water body can “handle” without violating state water quality standards.

Recent heavy rains in the reservoir watershed raise concerns about the environmental impact. A good time to address these concerns is after wheat harvest.

Perhaps your field could be improved by adding grass waterway, terraces, conservation buffers, field borders or filter strips.

Funds for such projects are available through the WRAPS project, the Buffer Initiative and the TMDL designation.

These programs have no deadline for signing up, but funds are limited. Producers interested in these options can contact the Marion County Conservation District Office, where Natural Resources Conservation Service staff will help determine how to address your needs.

At least 70 percent cost share is available, based on county average cost, for these projects.

Unlike many of the national farm programs that require a lot of paperwork and a contract, all that is necessary through the WRAPS project and TMSL designation is a simple one-page form.

The WRAPS and the TMDL projects are strictly a voluntary incentive programs for landowners and operators who request cost-share funds for implementing “best management practices.”

The Kansas Water Quality Buffer Initiative is another voluntary incentive program. The initiative provides state payments in addition to the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) annual payment for establishing grass filter strips or riparian forest buffers in high-priority TMDL watersheds.

The initiative also includes a statewide tax incentive to producers enrolling filter strips and riparian buffers.

The KWQBI does require a contract, similar to a CCRP, with the state conservation commission for 10 to 15 years. That acreage does not have to be entered into the federal program in order to participate but can be.

If the contract is through the KWQBI alone, the producer can hay and graze that acreage without penalty. The state will pay a rental payment on a per-acre basis.

The state payment will be 30 percent of the allowable federal Soil Rental Rate (SRR) and any federal SRR incentive excluding the federal maintenance payment.

All acres shall be maintained as specified for the life of the contract period.

Your Marion County conservation office has the forms for these incentive payments.

The KWQBI aims to improve surface water quality by encouraging landowners to establish filter strips and riparian forest buffers along surface waters of the state.

The grass-and-tree cover provided by these practices will improve water quality by filtering sediment, pesticides, nutrients, fecal coliform and other pollutants from the field runoff prior to entering a stream or river.

The roots of these plants will also remove potential pollutants from ground water, assist in streambank stabilization, and provide valuable wildlife habitat.

Measures have been implemented by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to restore large buffer strips along the shoreline of the reservoir leased to area producers for crop production.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, local management and Tulsa District, are asking for additional funds to address the erosion along certain areas of the reservoir shoreline.

Also, a request has been made to Congress to add funding to the Corps budget for Marion Reservoir to conduct a feasibility study to determine how much of the nutrient loading is coming from the bottom of the lake, how much is being added through crop production and or how much phosphorus is found naturally in soils of the watershed.

The Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams have included the Marion Reservoir, along with two other watersheds, in a grant application to promote less expensive implementation of practices to address bacterial pollution in non-confined and confined livestock operations within TMDL areas.

With the significant amount of rain we’ve experienced these past few weeks, concerns are being raised about the amount of sediment and nutrients being brought into the waters of Marion Reservoir.

Water quality in the reservoir is a direct function of the health of the entire watershed. Every drop of water that flows into the lake that doesn’t have sediment or nutrients with it is one less problem to deal with in the future.

Any conservation practice implemented or established before the watershed is designated as a Conservation Security Program (CSP) watershed will help the landowners and operators qualify their land for that program that rewards the participant for the good stewardship of their land.

Implement those practices now, while cost-share is available.

Peggy Blackmon directs the WRAPS project at Marion Reservoir.

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