Officials, organizations team up to reduce agriculture runoff into Lake Huron

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Capital News Service
LANSING–With a bit of help, farmers can now improve their land and reduce farm runoff into Lake Huron, one ton of soil a time.
A group interested in protecting the lake’s water quality is providing funds to farmers to reduce the draining of sediment, fertilizers and other soil pollutants into the lake.
The Pinnebog River Watershed group has teamed up with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to reduce what is called non-point agricultural pollution.
State officials and organizations are working to protect the water quality of Lake Huron. Photo: my daily pics (Flickr)
Ditches and drains transport soil rich in phosphorous and nitrates into the lake, said Jim Johnson, director of environmental stewardship division of Michigan’s Department of Agriculture.
“Farming activities are largely responsible for sediment deposition and nutrient overloading issues in a large scale within the Great Lakes,” he said. “That is why the agriculture department is working closely with funders to help reduce the intensity of these problems.”
The program targets clay-rich areas because of their knack of bonding and retaining toxic chemicals, said Gary Overmier, a soil erosion and sediment control project management with the Great Lakes Commission.
Farm fertilizers are food to the naturally occurring algae. But too much could lead to an over-growth of algae. That reduces the quality of water and could lead to the death of fish and other beneficial organisms, experts say.
As part of the program the Huron Conservation District, a conservation group around Saginaw Bay, will teach farmers effective ways of preventing soil erosion and retaining fertility by using crops like rye, buckwheat and fodder.
Farmers can submit a proposal to the Pinnebog group detailing how they plan to prevent erosion and what it costs, Johnson said. Successful proposals will be determined by features such as the slope of the land, type of soil, nearness to the watershed and the cost of implementation.
The conservation district has contracted an agriculture engineer and soil specialist from Michigan State University to run the proposals’ data through a model to determine how much soil will be saved under each proposal.
The watershed group received close to $800,000 for this project from the Great Lakes Commission through the Great Lakes Restoration Funds and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
This conservation approach dubbed ‘best management practice’ has been used successfully in Kansas. Michigan will be the first state in the region to implement it, Johnson said.
Some of those watersheds include Saginaw Bay, the Pinnebog River Watershed, Ohio’s Maumee, Shiawassee and Sandusky.
Polluted run-off is one reason 40 percent of the country’s waterways are not clean enough for domestic and recreational use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Huron Conservation District has been assessing watersheds around Saginaw Bay over a long period, said Ray Dotson, a soil conservationist with the U.S Department of Agriculture.
“Some of the biggest problems they have established are sedimentation, nutrient loading and soil erosion,” he said.
The project will run till September 2013. Farm officials hope farmers will continue, Johnson said. Farmers benefit because such practices suppress weeds and insects, keep soil moist, retain nutrients and provide food for farm animals.
“This is a win-win situation — it is as much a benefit to the farmers as it is for the natural resources we are trying to preserve,” Johnson said.
Farm officials agree.
“Environmental stewardship is something farmers always want to do” said Jill Corrin, media relations manager for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “This project will help move projects which farmers have put on hold for so long because of the lack of finances.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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