ODNR offers new H2Ohio water quality program

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Wetlands in the Maumee Bay
Wetlands in the Maumee Bay.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced a new program, through H2Ohio, meant to encourage farmers to take cropland out of production and establish conservation practices, Nov. 9.

The H2Ohio program is a water quality initiative that includes an Ohio Department of Agriculture program to help farmers implement best management practices to reduce runoff from their fields. This new program will be offered through the department of natural resources and will focus on practices not covered by the department of agriculture program.

The new Water Quality Incentive Program, which is offered in combination with the Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, will offer farmers one time payments of $2,000 per acre for new Lake Erie CREP wetlands and forested riparian buffers, or, buffer strips with trees.

These practices can help improve water quality in the lake’s watershed by reducing flooding and nutrient loading in waterways, and reducing soil erosion.

Program

The CREP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that offers farmers compensation for taking cropland out of production and establishing conservation practices.

To participate in this new program, farmers must be eligible for the USDA program, which is offered in 27 northwestern Ohio counties, and must submit an application for the new program before having a CREP contract approved.

Farmers do not have to sign up for CREP before the new program, but, if they are approved for the new program, they must have an approved CREP contract to receive the $2,000 per acre payments.

There is a total of $5 million in H2Ohio funding earmarked for the new program, a department spokesperson said. Depending on how many sign up for the program, some of it could be redirected towards H2Ohio wetland projects.

Interest

The department said it did not have any projections on how many farmers might apply, but that there are currently 15,000 acres of Lake Erie CREP that could be enrolled.

Jordan Hoewischer, director of water quality and research for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, told Farm and Dairy that it’s hard to predict how many farmers will be interested in the program, but some who have faced flooding on parts of their land in recent years may view it as an opportunity to use farmland that hasn’t been producing well recently for something different.

“Obviously, it’s always tough when you’re taking farmland out of production,” he said. “But it’s not permanent.”

The program agreement length is 14.5 years, so that it expires six months before the ends of the CREP contracts, which last for 15 years. This will give interested farmers a chance to re-enroll into the USDA program for another 15 years after the new program expires.

Applications

The department will accept applications from Dec. 1 through Jan. 29.

Currently, there are currently no plans for a second sign-up period. Participation and funding will have the greatest impact on whether it considers another sign-up down the road.

Applications will be selected based on which projects are the best for improving water quality. For more on qualifying criteria, or for a list of department staff who can offer additional program details, help with project planning or help with the application process, visit h2.ohio.gov/new-h2ohio-incentive-program-helps-improve-water-quality/.

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