U.S. Water News Online
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Farmers working land along three of the
state's major rivers would be paid to set aside up to 100,000 acres
to improve water quality by curbing runoff while restoring wildlife
habitat, said Gov. Tim Pawlenty in announcing a new program.
``We have more fresh water than any other state in the continental
United States,'' Pawlenty said. ``Protecting and restoring this crown
jewel of our quality of life should be our number one environmental
The $226-million proposal, which includes local, state and federal
money, is the centerpiece of a clean water initiative Pawlenty
outlined in June. It would expand the Conservation Reserve
Enhancement Program in Minnesota to improve the state's waterways.
Three areas of the state are targeted in the proposal, which is
being submitted to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman. It
focuses on restoring 42,500 acres in the Red River Watershed in the
northwest, 42,500 acres in the lower Mississippi River watershed in
the southeast and 15,000 acres in the Missouri River watershed in
If the proposal is approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
$180 million would come from that agency, with $46 million in state
and local money. For the state's side, Pawlenty wants the Legislature
to bond for $23 million in 2004 and the same amount two years later.
``I think legislators would be remiss if they didn't include
this'' (in the bonding bill), Pawlenty said.
State Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, wasn't impressed.
``The basic concern here is during the Pawlenty administration,
they've taken about 1,000 steps backward regarding water quality,''
she said. ``Now, he takes a half step forward and he wants to step up
While she doesn't oppose the CREP program, Wagenius said it's
important to build in a way to measure results.
``Is this the best bang for your buck?'' she said. ``We cannot
She thinks the state should monitor groundwater more frequently as
well as taking a closer look at septic tanks, feedlots and wastewater
CREP is a voluntary program that works with farmers and ranchers
to set aside marginal agricultural lands along waterways to enhance
wildlife habitats, imp rove water quality, reduce erosion and
sedimentation and reduce the effects of recurrent flooding.
Once the Agriculture Department has received Minnesota's proposal,
the final details would be negotiated and agreed upon by both the
state and the USDA. Farmers could begin voluntarily signing up to put
their land in the program as early as March 2004. Landowners will
have the choice of a 35-year or perpetual easement.
The federal government limits CREP proposals to one, 100,000-acre
plan for each term of the Federal Farm Bill.
The national CREP program was authorized in 1996 and Minnesota
earlier took advantage of the program in the Minnesota River Basin.
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