WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following his urging, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) will invest $41 million in additional Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding to help protect the western Lake Erie basin from harmful algal blooms and improve water quality. This will bring USDA funding through Farm Bill and other voluntary conservation programs to $77 million over the next three years. NRCS will target program assistance to reduce sediment loss and protect soil loss on the most vulnerable lands in the watershed.
“Providing farmers additional resources to invest in conservation practices is one piece of what must be a comprehensive and collaborative conservation effort to reduce runoff in the watershed,” Brown said. “With continued federal support for state and local water quality initiatives and greater awareness of best farming practices, we can help keep Lake Erie healthy and safe.”
In a letter sent in July 2015 to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Brown and his colleagues urged the agency to develop both short- and long-term strategies to protect Lake Erie from harmful algal blooms and to release additional EQIP funding for farmers wanting to plant cover crops. After months of significant rain in portions of the watershed, tens of thousands of acres went unplanted last year. With the additional funding, more farmers can use EQIP funding to plant cover crops, helping reduce potential phosphorus runoff, a contributing factor in harmful algal blooms.
As the first Ohioan to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 40 years, Brown helped to establish the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in the 2014 Farm Bill which created voluntary partnerships between agricultural and conservation groups aimed at helping farmers improve soil health, protect water quality, and restore wildlife habitats. The states of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana received $17.5 million to implement the Tri-State Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorous Reduction Initiative.
Brown has taken a multifaceted approach to ensuring that all Ohioans have access to clean, safe, water. In August 2015, Brown’s bipartisan legislation to protect Ohio’s drinking water was signed into law. The Drinking Water Protection Act directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and report to Congress a strategic Algal Toxin Risk Assessment and Management Plan to evaluate the health risk of drinking water contaminated with algal toxins and to recommend feasible treatment options for public water systems. Last month, Brown also introduced legislation to protect Ohio families from exposure to toxic lead through their drinking water.