As the banks of the creek widened and the water darkened, Rick Ehrenberg knew he needed to do something to stop the erosion on his Wisconsin farm.
“I noticed a lot of erosion on the creek bank and wanted to put in terraces and refurbish waterways,” says Ehrenberg, whose farm is in the Greenlake watershed. “I walked into the NRCS [Natural Resources Conservation Service] office to see what they could do—their goal was to stop sediment loading in the watershed and mine was to keep soil on my farm. Ultimately, the answer for both was the same thing.”
Ehrenberg used National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) dollars and advice from their experts to reduce runoff by building six new terraces, fixing the creek’s bank and adding a sediment basin. This year, NRCS is adding 30 more watersheds to the program for a total of 201 watersheds eligible to receive aid. NWQI is funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides financial assistance for farmers to make conservation changes.
“Watersheds in the program use stakeholder groups to identify how on-farm conservation can be used to make a difference for clean water,” says Martin Lowenfish, team lead for NRCS conservation initiatives.
Watershed problems are all different. For Ehrenberg, sediment was the issue, but in other areas high nitrate loads, bacteria loading and algae can be more pressing. This means there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
“One thing we really want to accelerate with NWQI is the planning as well as the financial side by engaging local stakeholders to develop a watershed plan,” Lowenfish explains. “We want to address issues the best way and avoid the ‘random acts of conservation’ that might not address the issues at hand.”
Since 2012, NWQI has provided $126 million in financial assistance in identified watersheds on top of EQIP’s $54 million in those locations. In 2018, the program will provide another $30 million. To take advantage of this money, contact your local NRCS office. You will need to submit an application for assistance, which will be reviewed to determine funding eligibility.
On Dennis Whitsitt’s southwestern Indiana farm, and others like it, rolling hills mean nutrients and turkey litter are prone to run off, putting the Wabash River watershed in a critical position. Whitsitt has used no-till practices on his corn, soybean, wheat and popcorn acres since 1983 but he needed to find additional solutions.
The past five years he’s tried cover crops on soybean ground with the help of NWQI and Soil and Water Conservation grants. He says it’s keeping soil and nutrients where they belong as well as increasing earthworm and microbial activity.
“The past three to five years they were able to cover pretty much all of our costs to put in cover crops,” Whitsitt says. “For me, it was kind of a no-brainer to go through government programs because we were going to try it regardless of funding.”