By Beverly Hunter and Roger Piantadosi
The idea that we all share a watershed — but that each farmer and landowner has to overcome unique hurdles to helping keep clean the water running through his or her part of it — came across clearly at a workshop sponsored by local environmental and soil conservation organizations last Thursday in Washington.
“Each farmer decides what works for their farm,” said Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy, in kicking off the “Water Quality in Your Community: Making Stewardship Make $ense” at the Washington Fire Hall on Thursday evening, Feb. 4.
To an audience of 50 persons, McCarthy pointed out that there is now a strong focus on improving water quality in Rappahannock County streams — especially the Rush, Hughes, and Hazel Rivers, where recent bacteria counts in some places are higher than is healthy for human use for swimming and other purposes.
These higher counts have in part helped make additional federal, state and private funds available to assist farmers with their own — voluntary — efforts to clean and protect the streams on their lands. The workshop was organized by Don Loock of Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and the Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District (CSWCD) to explain options available to landowners.
People attending the dinner meeting included such landowners from larger farms as James Massie, Chris Parrish, Bryant Lee, Steven Hensley, Cliff Miller and Dick McNear, as well as the stewards of smaller and/or newer farms in and around the county.
Staff members from CSWCD and the National Conservation Resource Service (NRCS) explained the benefits and incentives of an array of practices and programs to assist landowners and farmers in improving their farm management while helping make streams cleaner. Some of the benefits include clean water for your livestock; healthier livestock; improved weight gain; lower veterinary costs; increased return on investment; better grazing systems; improved pasture utilization; quicker pasture recovery; less compaction of soils.
Board of Supervisors members Parrish and Lee both mentioned, at the board’s meeting in early February following a spate of floods, that flood waters on both their properties seemed to have been reduced by forested buffers put in place upstream in recent years.
“I definitely noticed a difference from the floods of earlier years,” Parrish said of the Thornton, which Miller and others have protected with significant fencing and and planted buffers upstream. Lee said the same about Battle Run, similar buffered in recent years upstream from his farm.
The primary focus of the new cost-sharing programs is on providing alternative sources of water for cattle and fencing them out of the streams, but there are many additional practices that can be employed to help make our waters clean. For example, funding is available to clean out, repair or replace failing septic systems.
The emphasis now is on flexibility of a new combination of federal, state and private funding programs to meet the needs of each different farm situation.
In one example presented at Thursday’s workshop, a farmer can get more than 100 percent of his costs paid for by a combination of programs, if her or she will fence cattle out of the stream, allow a 35-foot buffer along the stream for trees and provide alternative water source.
Or, one can now even get technical and financial assistance when fencing cattle out of a stream and the fence is placed just 10 feet from top of the stream bank, rather than the traditional 35 feet.
The costs of this practice may include stream and cross fencing, water system, well, stream crossing and seeding. That program pays 50 percent of these components, plus a 25 percent tax credit on out-of- pocket expenses.
Three farmers who have enrolled in a variety of practices and cost-share programs over the years gave examples from their own situations to illustrate how different programs and practices work in different ways for different farmers.
John Boldridge, whose farm is at the confluence of the Hughes and Hazel rivers, reiterated to the group that “each person decides what works for their farm and must pick and choose among the various options based on their needs.”
Dick McNear, landowner in Gid Brown Hollow, talked about ways he has used conservation easements and the Conservation Resource Enhancement Program (CREP) to “make economic sense” of farming. Jimmy Henshaw from Greene County explained ways in which he has used the practices to keep his cattle healthy and manage their pasturing. Henshaw, who is a consultant to the CSWCD, walks the land with many different farmers so he is familiar with a wide range of farms and can see how to fit different practices into the situations.
For more information, contact the CSWCD staff at 540-825-8591.