Usda To Help Pennsylvania
The U..S. Department of Agriculture has arranged a $146 million Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) agreement with Pennsylvania to improve water conditions in the Ohio River, the third largest drainage basin in the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
Veneman said that Pennsylvania has already proven to be a leader in conservation, as the state has another successful CREP that is helping restore the Chesapeake Bay. Veneman made the announcement during a signing ceremony with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Also participating were Sen. Arlen Spector, Rep. Melissa Hart. Several state and local officials also attended the event.
Sign-up for the Pennsylvania CREP will begin Apr. 19, 2004, and continues until enrollment goals are attained or through Dec. 31, 2007, whichever comes first. Land enrolled in the program will remain under contract for a period of 10 to 15 years, as specified in the contract.
The Ohio River is formed at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in Pittsburgh, Pa., and one-third of the state lies within the river’s basin. Planting grasses, trees and other vegetation along 65,000 targeted acres of cropland and marginal pastureland will help restore and protect wetlands, highly erodible land and riparian areas along the basin.
Pennsylvania’s Ohio River Basin CREP will reduce sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous entering the basin, which will also help address the Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxia zone issues. Hypoxia, the loss of oxygen, occurs in Gulf waters when excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, accumulate and cause algae to flourish. Algae depletes the oxygen, essentially causing “dead zones.” The improved water quality will create habitat for declining grassland, riparian and wetland-dependent plant and animal species.
CREP is a voluntary program that pays participants to implement conservation practices on environmentally sensitive land. In return, participants receive annual rental payments paid on a per-acre basis, cost-share assistance and other financial incentives. CREP combines an existing FSA program, the Conservation Reserve Program, with state programs to meet specific state and national environmental objectives. CREP partnerships with states, tribal governments and private groups provide a coordinated approach to address critical conservation issues of the state and nation.
The total program cost over a 15-year period is estimated at $146 million, with USDA contributing $99 million and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania funding $47 million. Throughout this period, participants will receive incentive payments and cost-share assistance for installing approved conservation practices. USDA will also provide annual rental payments for the life of the contract. Pennsylvania will offer cost-share assistance, technical assistance to plan approved conservation practices and in-kind services to implement the practices.