WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today announced nearly $1 million in funding that will improve water quality in Grand Lake St. Marys. The funding will enable farmers in the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed to apply conservation measures that will benefit water quality in the lake. The funding is provided by the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which is administered by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

"The health of Grand Lake St. Marys is at risk and today's announcement of cleanup funds is welcome news for western Ohio.  These new federal dollars will build upon our long-term strategy of reducing runoff and improving the water quality," Brown said. "Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans rely upon Grand Lake St Marys for recreation, for drinking water, and for their jobs-its cleanup is a priority and I will continue to work with Secretary Vilsack and Governor Strickland until the job is done."

"Grand Lake St. Marys is a key to the economic engine of this region.  We are committed to Grand Lake St. Marys' recovery so tourists can return which will provide a big boost to area businesses," Governor Strickland said.  "I'm thankful for Secretary's Vilsack's leadership and for his quick response to our requests for assistance in restoring the lake to what it once was."  "I also want to thank Senator Brown for his persistent efforts to secure these cleanup funds and ensuring the lake is a priority of the federal government."

Earlier this week, Brown wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the USDA to immediately dedicate additional funds to combat cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, which has had a negative effect on water quality and the local economy.

Improving the water quality in Grand Lake St. Marys is in large part connected to proper nutrient management in the watershed and taking in-lake, near shore and tributary channel actions that will also help improve lake health. Many livestock operators, agricultural producers, and landowners are already working with local soil and water conservation districts to implement conservation practices using the financial incentives.

Today's EQIP funding will provide winter cover on agricultural land receiving manure in the fall of 2010 and also for land with low crop residue to reduce soil erosion. The NRCS field offices in Mercer and Auglaize Counties will be taking applications immediately and continue taking applications until the funding is exhausted.  In addition to the EQIP funds for agricultural producers, a second monitoring station will be placed in the watershed.  Data collected from the two stations in the watershed will provide benchmark data and track long-term improvements resulting from the improved conservation measures being implemented by agricultural producers. 

Brown, the first Senator from Ohio to serve on the Agriculture Committee in 40 years, has worked during the past three years to secure water quality conservation funding for Grand Lake St. Marys that encourages farmers to use best practices including cover crops and buffer strips that will improve the long-term health of the lake. In April 2010, Grand Lake St Marys received $1 million in funding for the creation of buffer strips along creeks running into Grand Lake St. Marys and for the planting of cover crops. In February 2008, U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded funding to help farmers in Auglaize and Mercer counties participate in a special demonstration project aimed at keeping nutrients and organic material out of area water supplies.

The Grand Lake St. Marys watershed encompasses 59,160 acres across Mercer and Auglaize counties in western Ohio. Tourism is estimated to contribute more than $200 million to the state's economy, but the blue-green algae has left the lake unsafe for swimming and the decrease in tourism has had a substantial effect on local businesses. Not only is it a popular recreational lake, but Grand Lake St. Marys serves as a community drinking water resource.

To read full text of Brown's letter to Vilsack, click here.

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