Thursday, September 19, 2019

Innovative partnership seeks to improve Saginaw Bay, Mich. water quality

Plume of sediment in Saginaw River, leading to Saginaw Bay, Mich.
Plume of sediment in Saginaw River, leading to Saginaw Bay, Mich. | U.S. EPA

A new public-private partnership seeks to improve the quality in Michigan’s largest watershed.

The Nature Conservancy and the Michigan Agri-Business Association (MABA) announced a new initiative under a $20 million Farm Bill partnership to improve the water quality of Michigan’s Saginaw Bay.

“This is a multi-year program and we look forward to offering opportunities for farmers to sign up for conservation efforts beginning this year,” said Chuck Lippstreu, a spokesman for the MABA.

The Saginaw Bay watershed spans 5.5 million acres across 22 counties and half of the land it covers is agricultural. Additionally, 900,000 people rely on the watershed for drinking water.

The Environmental Protection Agency has designated the watershed an “area of concern” due to its contaminated sediments, fish consumption advisories, degraded fisheries and loss of significant recreational value.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) aims to enroll over 25,000 acres of farmland in new land management practices that expects to keep 2,500 tons of sediment on land and 17,000 pounds of phosphorous out of the water over the next five years.

“This initiative aims to protect and improve water quality in the Saginaw Bay watershed, leverage the private sector to promote USDA conservation opportunities for farmers, and measure the impact of our conservation work in new ways,” Lippstreu said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service will work with MABA and The Nature Conservancy to support crop advisers and prepare them to share information with consumers. Those crop advisers will, in turn, help farmers sign up for conservation programs through the USDA.

The Nature Conservancy and Michigan State University, meanwhile, will measure impacts the conservation efforts have on the watershed by monitoring fish health, an approach that Lippstreu described as innovative.

“We’re excited about the broad, nontraditional partnership that’s working together on this program and believe we can have a measurable, positive impact on water quality in the long term,” Lippstreu said.

Farmers will be able to sign up for cost-share programs as part of the RCPP in the fall.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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