USDA joins Ohio in conservation effort in central Ohio

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COLUMBUS – A new $13 million conservation agreement to protect central Ohio’s drinking water and environment was signed last week by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman, Ohio Governor Bob Taft and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.

The federal/state/local partnership, part of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, will reduce runoff pollution in the Upper Big Walnut Creek watershed and Hoover Reservoir, a source of drinking water for more than 575,000 residents of Columbus and several neighboring communities.

Riparian incentives. The agreement creates the Upper Big Walnut Creek Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which will pay farmers and other landowners to plant trees and establish forested and grass corridors along tributary streams in Delaware, Franklin, Knox, Licking and Morrow counties.

The voluntary program uses financial incentives to encourage farmers to enroll by making a commitment to protect their land for 15 years or longer.

“We’ve set a goal of protecting more than 450 miles of waterway, and more than 3,500 acres in this vital watershed,” Taft said.

The effort is a joint project with the State of Ohio, the City of Columbus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Upper Big Walnut Creek Water Quality Partnership and local county soil and water conservation districts.

Land enrolled in such a program would either be cropland, marginal pastureland or land that qualifies for the federally funded Conservation Reserve Program.

Second in Ohio. The conservation program is the second such partnership in Ohio. In April 2000, Taft unveiled the Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, an initiative under way in 27 counties in Ohio’s western Lake Erie watershed.

To date, the program has seen nearly 13,000 acres of conservation practices enrolled, with more than 2,400 farmers participating in the program.

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program uses state and federal resources to help solve conservation problems. The program combines the existing USDA Conservation Reserve Program with state programs to meet specific state and national environmental objectives.

Information on the Upper Big Walnut Creek Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is available by contacting the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District at 740-368-1921, the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Conservation at 614-265-6610, or the Farm Service Agency or Natural Resources Conservation Service, located at local USDA Service Centers.

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