Among the various USDA Farm Bill programs that are available, one in particular, the Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (LE CREP) has enabled farm operators and landowners to become better stewards of their soil and water resources.
Ohio’s first CREP, comprised of 27 counties within the Western Basin of Lake Erie, was rolled out in the summer of 2000. A local, State, Federal and private partnership, the LE CREP was initiated to establish 67,000 acres of riparian and upland conservation practices throughout this intensively cultivated area. And seeing as how the western portion of Lake Erie is so shallow, it makes for this portion of the lake to be more readily affected by sediment and nutrient loadings from farming and other ag-related activities.
Farm operators and landowners who chose to participate in the LE CREP program planted or developed specific conservation practices that effectively address the resource concerns, while setting aside the environmentally sensitive areas on their farm. This has significantly reduced the amount of sedimentation and increased the protection our water courses, thus improving the water quality of our streams, rivers, and ultimately, Lake Erie. Among the conservation practices that participants have been able to establish are grassed filter strips, riparian buffers, field windbreaks, filter/recharge areas, wildlife habitat establishment, and wetland restorations. Some studies have shown how the vegetative buffers were able to reduce sediment loads through surface runoff by as much as 70 percent or more within the first twenty feet.
To date, approximately 470 aces in Erie County have been enrolled in the LE CREP. There still remains more than can be done through this highly successful program, as additional acres could still be planted to conservation practices, furthering our efforts to improve and protect the water quality of our streams and Lake Erie. Contact your local Conservation District to discuss your options!