LANSING — Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) announced that a multi-state conservation program–led by Indiana and including the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as a key partner–received $7,780,799 to protect natural resources, enhance soil health, improve water quality, and support landowners in the Western Lake Erin Basin (WLEB) region.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to expand and accelerate the work our states have been doing to preserve and protect our fresh water, which has been a top priority of Governor Whitmer’s administration since day one,” said MDARD Director Gary McDowell. “The Western Lake Erie Basin is a unique and complex challenge, one that can’t be overcome without adequate resources and key partnerships. This project provides both, and we can’t wait to get started.”
“Soil conservation and enhancing water quality are critical in this basin for not only Hoosiers, but also for our neighbors across the Midwest,” said Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. “This funding and these future projects are sure to have a lasting impact on our ecosystem, and I am excited to see what the future of the Western Lake Erie basin holds.”
Titled the Lake Erie Conservation Partnership, this grant is for a five-year program and was awarded to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and The Ohio State University (OSU), which will work together collectively to focus on nutrient management, erosion control, water management, and more. This funding will aim to steward new conservation programs in all three states and will be utilized for demonstration sites of soil conservation practices.
“Indiana is thrilled to be a partner in this outstanding conservation effort,” said Bruce Kettler, Indiana State Department of Agriculture director. “The work done by these conservation groups and landowners is critical to the continued improvement of water quality and soil health. I am looking forward to working with our partnering states to the north and east.”
The conservation focus area for these efforts is in the Western Lake Erie Basin, which is one of the nation’s most significant collections of inland rivers and streams. It covers nearly seven million acres, and it encompasses most of northwest Ohio, as well as portions of northeast Indiana and southeast Michigan. Lake Erie is an important regional resource, providing essential drinking water as well as economic and recreational opportunities.
These funds from USDA-NRCS are part of a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This federal program promotes coordination of NRCS conservation activities with partners that offer value-added contributions to expand the ability to address on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns. USDA is investing a total of $23.2 million in three Regional Conservation Partnership Programs in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program shows public-private partnerships working at their best,” said Jerry Raynor, NRCS state conservationist in Indiana. “These new projects will harness the power of partnerships to bring about science-based solutions to improve the health and resilience of the Western Lake Erie Water Basin, enhancing water quality and soil productivity in the region.”
All RCPP projects are based on public and private partnerships, which create more opportunities for conservation efforts on the ground and new avenues to reach producers and landowners.
Effective soil health stewardship relies on critical partnerships from entities like the Indiana Corn Marketing Council; the Indiana Soybean Alliance; the Ohio Corn Marketing Program; the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association; the Ohio Soybean Council; Indiana Dairy Producers; Red Gold Tomatoes; Michigan Farm Bureau; the Erb Family Foundation; and the Lenawee, Monroe, Hillsdale, and Washtenaw Conservation Districts.
“This project focuses resources on areas critical to improving Lake Erie’s water quality, as well as addressing local drinking water impacts,” said Heather Raymond, Water Quality Initiative Director for The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Leveraging support from private partner Cargill, Ohio State will help monitor the effects of conservation practices on both soil health and source water quality for the City of Delphos, a northwestern Ohio community impacted by elevated nitrates and harmful algal blooms. Regional water quality improvements will also be estimated through watershed modeling. “We are excited to help engage farmers in new conservation practices and measure the potential soil health and water quality benefits of this project,” Raymond said.
— Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development