FINDLAY - A little-known incentive program that helps keep farm chemicals, street runoff, lawn fertilizers, and other land-based pollutants out of area waterways was credited yesterday with controlling floodwater on many sites where it has been deployed.
The Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, known as the Lake Erie CREP, provides thousands of federal dollars to landowners who establish buffers or enhance wetlands between their property and the streams that flow alongside them.
The buffers can be anything from tall grass to trees. The intent is to have them serve as strips of land to filter runoff. Land in 27 northwest Ohio counties is eligible.
Officials from the Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Ohio State University extension office in Findlay, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said farms under the CREP program fared much better than those that aren't.
Bottom line: As bad as the flooding was, it could have been a whole lot worse.
They said their observations were enhanced by a helicopter flyover arranged by Environmental Defense, a national environmental group promoting such land-management techniques.
Among other things, they saw a third of one farmer's soybean field destroyed by high water. It had been farmed to the property edge. Nearby farms under CREP appeared to have little or no damage.
Under the CREP program, eligible landowners can receive 15 payments a year for land they take out of production near a ditch, river, or stream at 155 to 225 percent of the county base soil rental rate.
The land needs to remain in the program for at least 15 years. Participants can get up to 90 percent of the money it costs to plant and maintain the trees, grass, bushes, or plants in the established filter strips. A $100-per-acre bonus is available for those who plant trees.
The amount of compensation depends on the type of soil, the land-management technique, and other factors.
The program provides steady revenue for shoreline land that often is less productive and unreliable.
"It can be guaranteed income on that acreage, whereas otherwise it might be a break-even proposition at best," said Todd Hesterman, an Environmental Defense consultant and chairman of the Henry County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Environmental Defense's efforts to curb runoff in northwest Ohio stem largely from its portion of a $5 million grant the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation issued earlier this year to several private organizations trying to address a myriad set of pollution issues affecting the Maumee River, Lake Erie's largest tributary.
The Blanchard River is part of the Lake Erie watershed. It flows into the Auglaize River, which flows into the Maumee. Many of the pollutants that wind up in western Lake Erie originated from land in the Findlay area and elsewhere, as far away as Fort Wayne, Ind.
"It's very important to understand the watershed. Where is the drainage? Where does [the water] go?" said Gary Wilson, Ohio State University extension educator for Hancock County.
The CREP has enlisted about 41 percent of the land - 27,700 of 67,000 acres - eligible for the program, Karen Chapman, Environmental Defense spokesman, said.
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