2016-04-12 / Front Page

319 Grant Aims To Improve Lower Eel River Watershed In Clay, Owen, And Vigo Counties

by Suzanne Crabb
for The Hoosier Topics

Landowners and farmers attended the recent 319 Grant meeting in Clay City to learn more about money that will be available for implementing best management practices. (Photo by Suzanne Crabb) Landowners and farmers attended the recent 319 Grant meeting in Clay City to learn more about money that will be available for implementing best management practices. (Photo by Suzanne Crabb) Area farmers and other interested parties gathered Wednesday, April 6th in the United Methodist Fellowship Hall in Clay City to hear information and give input on funds designated to help improve water quality in the Lower Eel River Watershed, which encompasses 260,000 acres.

With E. coli levels nearly five times the state maximum in three of the watershed creeks and all waterways testing above state standards, major concerns have prompted efforts to attain a grant to help alleviate some of the contributors. Tyler Trout, Watershed Coordinator with Clay County Soil and Water Conservation District, told the audience that after nearly a decade of trying to secure grant dollars, the district has secured a 319 grant through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Clay County Soil & Water Conservation District Watershed Coordinator Tyler Trout describes the Lower Eel River Watershed which has many of its waterways listed as “impaired” or “severely impaired” by IDEM. (Photo by Suzanne Crabb) Clay County Soil & Water Conservation District Watershed Coordinator Tyler Trout describes the Lower Eel River Watershed which has many of its waterways listed as “impaired” or “severely impaired” by IDEM. (Photo by Suzanne Crabb) While the grant awarded is for closer to $200,000, certain monies are required to be dedicated to education and the payment of the watershed coordinator. What farmers were eager to learn about is the $110,284 of cost-share funds that can be spent over a two-and-a-half year period.

Trout explained the river and its tributaries are contaminated by non-point-source pollution, pollution that occurs from polluted run-off. Various causes such as animal waste, human waste from faulty septic systems, excessive chemical fertilizer application, improper manure application, sediment from erosion, and run-off from livestock feedlots are the main contributors. These funds will be designated to assist in partial payment of the implementation of best management practices along the river and its tributaries, with a maximum of 75/25 cost-share.

Although anyone along these waterways will have the opportunity to apply for the money, Trout said they would like to cover as many acres as possible, with a higher priority in critical areas and a higher priority for first-time practice users. In looking at reduction of pollution, a 76 percent reduction of E. coli is needed across the watershed, nitrates and phosphates need to be reduced by 11 percent, and erosion, leading to sedimentation, needs to be reduced by 15 percent. Critical areas at this time for E. coli are Hog Creek, near Center Point; Turkey Creek, located southeast of the State Road 46 and State Road 59 junction; and Brush Creek, just south of Staunton.

With nearly forty best management practices given in a handout to the attendees, Trout said some of the easier practices such as buffer strips between crops and waterways, animal fencing to keep the livestock out of the streams, cover crops to prevent erosion, and nutrient management plans would probably make best use of the funds.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs and Clean Water Indiana (CWI) grants were also discussed on ways farmers can complete and have completed some bigger project, prompting local farmers to lean more towards smaller projects with this money.

Under the terms of the grant, if a landowner uses the money to create a structure, it must be maintained for ten years, buffers must be continued for five years, while cover crops only require one year of planting.

A form provided to all in attendance for Wednesday’s meeting asked landowners to complete the following questions: 1. What problems do you see in your watershed personally? 2. What conservation practices do you think we be the most useful in improving water quality? 3. What do you think would be the most appropriate cost-share percentage? 4. Do you think there should be a payment cap for any given practice? If so, how much?

While input was given during the meeting, those in attendance were asked to fill out the information in an effort to help put together a cost-share plan for presentation and approval in the near future.

During the question session, local farmer Joe Edwards asked if the E. coli was more of a concern than the fertilizer run-off. Trout said it is and education will be key to correcting sewage issues, but livestock and manure not knifed in or tilled in to the ground are big contributors.

Kegan Knust asked if the money could only be used for existing operations or if it could be used for start-up operations. If the money will go toward a best practice, then yes, Trout answered. Josh Brosmer, Senior Environmental Manager, Watershed Specialist with IDEM, added, “If part of your plan is to place fencing around waterways to keep livestock out, this could be cost-shared, but not just fencing on the property.”

While much of the water shed can be found in southern Clay County, the Lower Eel River Watershed does stretch over into Vigo and Owen counties. One Owen County resident, John Ciresi, questioned, “Will the cost-share percentage be per management practice? Will some be paid at 50/50 for example, while others might be paid at 90/10?” “It depends on what we decide (for the cost-share plan),” Trout answered. “Someone could do multiple best management practices and they would get reimbursed for both projects.”

Ciresi then suggested looking at the most effective best practices and reimbursing at a higher percentage for more incentive to put in place the more difficult practices and less for the easier practices. “Perhaps it could be broken down when practices are implemented,” he said. “For example in year one, you get 75/25 sharing where if you wait until year two, you only get 60/40 sharing to encourage some up-front participation.”

Trout said that in the initial plan, it could be noted that more expensive practices will have a higher cost to the landowner, possibly only a 50/50 cost-share and Brosmer added that the cost-share plan could be written so it could step up or down in percentage as the plan goes on.

One landowner in the Center Point area, P.J. Nicoson, brought up the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, which he says is currently “piling manure” from the felines “along the side of the county road.” He added right now it is raining and the run-off is going into the local streams. One of the creeks which is currently listed in the critical range for E. coli, Hog Creek, runs through that general area. Nicoson noted he believed they are one of the main contributors to the problem for this creek. Trout replied he would be interested in speaking with them to see if there was a way to help remedy this.

One farmer questioned with such little money to cover so many acres, this seemed like a lot of time invested to figure out how to spend it. Agreeing this is not a significant amount, Trout explained that this grant could “perpetuate more money.” Adding to that Brosmer said, “With this first grant, we want to establish guidelines and not micromanage where it is spent, but we do want to spread the founds out a little more. The reality is, if the interest is strong, the money may be spent in the first year or two.” He noted that if the practices show an improvement in the water quality and that landowners are serious about making changes, this would most likely lead to larger amounts of money in the future. Twelve testing sites exist throughout the watershed, allowing for proof of incremental improvement.

In discussion on the percentage for the cost-share plan, Henry Buell recommended a 50/50 share on every practice, with a cap. Trout stated, “We need to find a happy medium where people are going to be incentivized.” Buell said he thought “$5,000 is enough to incentivize someone to do something.” Several of the nearly 20 farmers in attendance agreed that 50/50 was a good cost-share figure. Matt Mace with the Clay County SWCD recommended the 50/50 be used with a cap ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. Buell suggested a high cap be allowed for the more critical areas.

Looking at a time line, Trout said they would like to start spending the money as soon as possible. Once the cost-share plan has been established, then advertising for the funds can begin and the grant could start paying for implementation of practices this fall. Trout will use the information collected to put together a cost-share plan and ask for approval of the plan at the next meeting. No date has been set yet, but it will be published once it has been established.

Following the meeting, Brosmer emphasized the need for the use of the grant dollars. “We are hoping to improve water quality. The issues the locals talked about in the Watershed Management Plan when they wrote it, we are hoping to see those issues improve; hopefully, to the point where IDEM is no longer listing the watersheds in this area as impaired for E. coli and other problems.”

If you have any questions or want more information about the 319 grant, contact watershed coordinator Tyler Trout at the Clay County SWCD office, 812-448-1108, extension 3.

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