2008-09-24 / Local & State

Agriculture & Clean Streams: The Farmer's Responsibility

By Doug Valentine F.C. CONSERVATION DISTRICT

Pictured above are cattle that have a direct access to a stream. Pictured above are cattle that have a direct access to a stream. Does this photograph look like your farm operation, with cattle having direct access to the stream? In Pennsylvania, there is a law on the books that regulates water quality - the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law of 1937 and its Chapter 102 Erosion & Sediment Control regulations. Chapter 102 requires persons proposing or conducting earth disturbance activities to develop, implement and maintain Best Management Practices (BMPs) to minimize the potential for accelerated erosion and sedimentation. Included in this definition of "earth disturbance" is livestock having direct access to streams and animal concentration areas alongside streams.

This article explains some of the state and federal programs available to you - programs that offer cost-share assistance to install streambank fencing, stabilized stream crossings and watering facilities.

First is the commonwealth's Streambank Fencing Program offered through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This program will install one or two-strand, high tensile fencing along the stream for free. The fence must be installed at a minimum of 35 feet from the top of the streambank. The program will pay 100 percent of the cost to install the fence, stream crossings and watering facilities. The DEP project coordinator takes care of everything from completing any necessary design work, obtaining permits, lining up the contractor and supervising the installation of all conservation practices.

The next two programs are managed by the USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). The first program is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Continuous Sign-Up. The practice installed is called "Marginal Pastureland Wildlife Habitat Buffer." The minimum acceptable width of the wildlife habitat buffer is 20 feet from the top of the streambank. This is a vegetative grass buffer and trees are not required to be planted. There is 50 percent costshare available, along with 40 percent practice incentive bonus for installing a minimum of twostrand, high tensile fencing, vegetative stabilization of the buffer area, pipeline and watering troughs and stabilized stream crossings (if needed). With the 40 percent practice incentive bonus, this is the equivalent of receiving 90 percent total cost-shares for your stream project.

The second FSA program is the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The practice installed is called "Forested Riparian Buffer." The minimum acceptable width of the buffer is 35 feet and may be up to 180 feet. With this practice, as the name suggests, trees are required to be planted and maintained. The federal government pays a rental rate on the land placed into the program, based on the soils within the buffer. To be eligible for this program, you must have livestock and they must be fenced out of the stream. There is 100 percent cost-share (50 percent FSA and 50 percent DEP) available, along with 40 percent practice incentive bonus for installing a minimum of two-strand, high tensile fencing, planting trees and shrubs in the buffer area, pipeline and watering troughs and stabilized stream crossings. If you are interested in any of the FSA's programs, please contact them at 216 North Second Street, Mc- Connellsburg or by telephone at 717-485-3547, extension 2.

Another program that provides assistance with streambank fencing is the Regional Riparian and Ag BMP Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to implement rotational grazing systems and riparian buffers, utilizing funding from the PA DEP Chesapeake Bay Program. The initiative has set a 100 percent costshare rate for riparian fencing (not to exceed $1.50 per foot) and for installing pipeline, watering troughs and stream crossings. A minimum critical area buffer width of 20 feet would exclude livestock from the stream, with an additional 30-foot minimum width converted to a permanent sod that is rotationally grazed in a managed system. These funds are usually available on an annual basis sometime in the late winter. Applications are submitted to the Capital Resource Conservation & Development Office (RC&D) and are evaluated and ranked based on the environmental benefits each offer. Assistance with submitting the application is available from the Fulton County Conservation District.

The final program available for streambank fencing is the Chesapeake Bay Program - Special Projects (CBP-SP). These program funds are mainly utilized to establish managed intensive grazing systems. We try to combine CRP or CREP funding in order to make the CBP-SP funds go further. The cost-share rate for CBPSP can range from 50 percent to 80 percent. Typically, we use CRP/CREP funds for the streambank fencing, pipelines, watering troughs and stream crossings, and CBP-SP funding to install animal walkways, interior paddock fencing and stabilized feeding pads. To apply for these funds, an application must be submitted to the PA DEP Southcentral Regional Office (SCRO). DEP's SCRO has a pot of money that they then allocate to the 17 counties that they oversee, based on the environmental benefits of each application. As above, assistance with submitting the application is available from the Fulton County Conservation District.

With pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to "Save the Bay," the PA Department of Environmental Protection just may come knocking on your door and ask if you have an ag erosion & sediment control plan or conservation plan. They may ask why your cattle have unlimited access to the waters of the commonwealth. These are the folks with the black hats; these are the enforcement people.

Think about your downstream neighbors. Would you want your children or grandchildren playing in the stream below your livestock farm? If you were downstream, would you want your livestock drinking water pulled from the stream, knowing that your neighbors' cattle are standing in the water upstream doing their business into it? Before the "black hats" show up on your doorstep, be a good neighbor and contact the Fulton County Conservation District's ag specialist, Doug Valentine, for technical assistance. Doug can be reached at 717-485- 3547, extension 117, or stop in and visit him at the district office located at 216 North Second Street, McConnellsburg. He can assist you with the development of a conservation plan (ag erosion & sediment control plan) and advise you on the cost-share programs available. He can further assist you with some of the applications that may be required. Cost-share funds are very limited in the commonwealth and when it comes to installing conservation practices, you need to know and understand all of the programs that are available to you. The time to act is now before DEP makes an appearance.

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