Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's CREPtastic! Guest Post

Sara Christensen serves ISDA as the State Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) Coordinator, and works on watershed/water quality issues. Although she currently resides in downtown Indy, she uses her free time to escape to the natural places of Indiana. Originally from small town Ohio, Sara has embraced the Hoosier State and cares deeply for Indiana’s people and places. She is proud IUPUI alum, with a background in geology.

It's CREPtastic!
That’s the word on the street at the State Department of Ag lately. Well, okay, at least in my world. I’ve been working on CREP for the better part of the last two years. After many months of hard work in ISDA as well as FSA, the CREP amendment was finally signed and official on August 27th of this year. ISDA and FSA hosted a signing event at Mr. Mike Starkey’s farm in the Brownsburg area. Many of our conservation partner leaders were in attendance, including our own Lt. Governor Becky Skillman, ISDA‘s Director Joe Kelsay, USDA-FSA State Executive Director Julia Wickard, and many others. It was a fun day! Whew!

Let me start from the beginning, my beginning anyway. When I joined the staff at ISDA, CREP was available in three of Indiana’s HUC 8s and only in parts of 29 counties (What’s a HUC 8? Here’s a link!). By the way, Indiana contains or touches parts of 38 HUC 8s. The CREP amendment allows this program to increase its availability to 11 total watersheds touching 65 counties. Ok, great, so CREP is available in 11 watersheds? What is it? CREP – the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program – is a program that provides financial incentives to landowners who voluntarily set aside some of their marginally productive or sensitive farm ground into certain natural resource conservation practices for 14-15 year periods. CREP funds come from the State of Indiana, as well as USDA Farm Service Agency. Additional technical and financial assistance comes from Natural Resource Conservation Services, The Nature Conservancy, and the White River Restoration Fund. Members of the Indiana Conservation Partnership, as well as other conservation groups, serve on the CREP coordinating and technical committees. So, CREP is most definitely a group effort!
Native grasses (above) are one example of a CREP practice

CREP is designed to alleviate some of the nonpoint source sediments and nutrients leaving agricultural lands; improved water quality is a large constituent of this program. What are nonpoint source sediments and nutrients? Well, point source discharges are those that leave from a single source, such as a pipe. Nonpoint source discharges are basically everything else that leaves the landscape through overland flow. CREP also enhances wildlife habitat. So, let’s talk specifically about practices and what they do. Most of the practices available in CREP focus on “buffer-type” practices: native grasses, riparian buffers, filter strips, wildlife habitat, and hardwood trees. These types of practices do several things to enhance water quality. Grasses and other plants act as a filter; sediments and nutrients are filtered out of the water before they can enter a waterway, the water entering a buffer decreases velocity and drops particles, and plants uptake excess nutrients. The decreased velocity also allows more of the water to percolate through the subsurface, further filtering the water and allowing for groundwater recharge. Riparian buffers that include tree planting shade waterways, allowing for more species diversity due to the cooler water temperatures and additional places for species to thrive. These areas also allow for connected corridors, which many species need to be successful.

There are a few whole field practices available as well, including wetlands and bottomland tree plantings. These practices again slow down water flow, allowing sediments to drop, filtering to occur, and groundwater recharge. Wetlands in particular, allow for denitrification to occur (wetlands could be a whole other guest blog!), reducing the nitrates that enter our waterways (reducing Gulf Hypoxia – guess I’ll be writing a few more guest blogs!). Another benefit of these practices is the potential to mitigate water quantity issues (as opposed to quality). Wetlands hold large amounts of water, allowing water to slowly enter our waterways, helping to alleviate flooding and droughts. Mature trees uptake vast amounts of water, again, using water that would have directly entered an adjacent waterway. Just one more benefit - the majority of our State and Federally listed threatened and endangered species use these areas at at least some stage in the life cycle.

Financial benefits vary depending on practice and soil type, but include up to 90% cost share for certain practices and annual rental payments from FSA, and payments from $100-$950 per acre from the state. For more information, go to ISDA's website or visit your local Soil and Water Conservation District, and remember, it’s CREPTASTIC!


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