$5.3 Million Kickapoo River Project

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$5.3 million invested 

in Kickapoo River project

By Ted Pennekamp


United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $30 million this year in 33 new projects and 40 existing projects to improve water quality in high priority watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin. These projects reduce loss of nutrients and sediment to waters that eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

One of these projects will involve the Kickapoo River watershed in parts of Vernon and Crawford counties. NRCS will work with the Crawford and Vernon County Land Conservation Departments and others to assist landowners and producers in addressing nutrient and sediment losses from cropland and degraded pastures. Citizen water quality monitoring from Valley Stewardship Network volunteers will provide data to support load-reduction goals. NRCS plans to invest $847,000 in fiscal year 2016 as part of a $5.3 million commitment in the watershed over three fiscal years.

“By targeting small priority watersheds within the Mississippi River basin, we are helping to deliver local water quality benefits and contributing to large-scale improvements for the Basin as a whole,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Water quality is important to everyone, at all levels of government, to private landowners, and in rural and urban areas alike. The many partnerships created through this initiative are both impressive and promising to the future of these watersheds.”

NRCS District Conservationist for Crawford County Karyl Fritsche said that the project is going to cover the following watersheds within the Kickapoo Watershed.

Crawford County: Halls Branch, Caswell Hollow-Kickapoo River, Trout Creek-Kickapoo River, and Tainter Creek.

Vernon County: Tainter Creek, Goose Creek-Kickapoo River, West Fork-Kickapoo River, Otter Creek, Weister Creek, Plum Run-Kickapoo River, and Knapp Creek-West Fork Kickapoo River. 

Portions of Goose Creek cross into Richland County and Knapp Creek hits a little of Monroe County.

Fritsche said the project starts in 2016, with a tentative application deadline of March 4.

“One thing I would like to say is for landowners to call sooner rather than later if they are interested,” said Fritsche. “March might seem like a long way off, but there is a lot of planning that needs to happen to be ready to obligate funds.”

Fritsche said $847,000 will be invested in 2016, along with tentatively $2.2 million in 2017, and tentatively $2.1 million in 2018.

“The Kickapoo Watershed project is intended to reduce non-point source pollution, namely soil erosion, to improve water quality and reduce phosphorus loading in the hypoxia zone,” said Fritsche. “There will be an emphasis on rotational grazing and streambank stabilization, but it will include most all of our conservation practices including cover crop, prairie restoration, invasive species control,  and manure storage.

“The hope is that we will see a TMDL (total maximum daily loads) reduction in the Halls Branch watershed, currently listed on the 303D impaired waterbody list. We should also see a large reduction in upland erosion given the dollar amount appropriated to a relatively small area.”

These 33 new projects and the 40 existing projects in the Mississippi River Basin are funded through NRCS’ Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), which uses several Farm Bill conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), to help farmers adopt conservation systems to improve water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, and restore wetlands. Since MRBI’s start in 2009, NRCS has worked with more than 600 partners and 5,000 farmers to make conservation improvements on more than 1 million acres in the region.

Through these partnerships, the initiative more than quadrupled the number of contracts addressing water quality concerns in targeted project areas. NRCS will invest $30 million per year over the next three years, as part of a $100 million commitment from the 2014 Farm Bill.

Findings from a 2013 report by the USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) show that conservation work on cropland in the Mississippi River Basin has reduced the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing to the Gulf of Mexico by 18 and 20 percent, respectively. CEAP models have also shown that the targeted approach of MRBI has enhanced the per-acre conservation benefit by 70 percent for sediment losses, 30 percent for nitrogen losses and 40 percent for phosphorus losses, when compared to general program activities.

MRBI is one of many landscape-level efforts to address water quality. Similar efforts are ongoing in the Great Lakes region, Gulf of Mexico region, Chesapeake Bay watershed and California Bay Delta region.

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