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USDA grant will help protect central Ohio water quality

A central Ohio organization’s proposal is among 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states that will be granted more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

RCPP competitively awards funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

“We fully expect the resources that were recently announced to be matched at least dollar for dollar,” said Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary. “So what we are looking at is nearly three quarters of a billion dollars of investment in conservation.”

Nearly 600 pre-proposals were submitted in 2014. The top pre-proposals were invited to submit a full proposal, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) received 210 proposals requesting $1.4 billion — four times the available funding.

“Roughly 70% of the project being funding impact water quality and quantity,” Vilsack said. “We are looking at flood prevention, drought resilience, nutrient management and other strategies to focus on better soil health and better water quality.”

Promoting better management practices for phosphorus will be the goal of the Delaware, Knox, Licking and Morrow Soil and Water Conservation Districts, all of which received total funding of $1 million from this new program.

“This is very exciting for our area districts and for the Upper Big Walnut Creek Water Quality Partnership,” said Bonnie Dailey, Streams and Watersheds Conservationist with the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District. “There is a lot of work ahead of us, but that is why we’re here.”

In most cases, discussions about water quality in Ohio are targeted on Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys. For the central Ohio counties receiving funds from this program, water quality has not been an issue and the goal is to make sure that it never is.

“Luckily, we are in more of a preventative mode than a cleanup mode, and we want to keep it that way,” Dailey said. “We don’t want to get to the point that we have a huge disaster and a big public relations nightmare for the agriculture community so we are being proactive with these funds.”

The Upper Big Walnut Creek watershed and those who drink water from it will be the beneficiaries of this USDA funding. This watershed, located in Delaware County, drains into the Hoover and O’Shaughnessy Reservoirs, the water supply for the City of Columbus.

In addition to the phosphorous reducing conservation practices, the proposal also provides for the installation of a bioreactor, water quality monitoring and data analysis.

“We have been working with a local farmer who has and edge-of-field monitoring system already in place and that is also where we plan to build the bioreactor,” Dailey said. “This unit will monitor the inflow and outflow of nitrogen plus, with a new steel slag component, will also monitor the inflow and outflow of phosphorus.”

The remainder of the funding will be used for EQUIP funding for cover crops, field borders, reduced tillage and drainage water management.

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