Conservation program's funding likely
By Rob Clark
Bay City Times
Published July 19th, 2004
State lawmakers are ready to pump more money into a water-quality
program that is especially popular in the Saginaw River
The state's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
is set to get $4 million in funding on Oct. 1 - money
that will be bolstered by federal funds and then be used
to pay farmers to turn farmland into natural areas that
filter pollution from groundwater.
Funding for the 4-year-old program has been suspended
State Rep. Joseph Rivet, D-Bangor Township, said the local
watershed will see the most impact from the new dollars.
"There are only three watersheds in the state that
use this money and the Saginaw Bay, which is made up of
22 counties, is by far the largest watershed," Rivet
"Obviously, we're pleased that the money is there."
In Bay County, about 1,881 acres has been enrolled into
CREP, including 1,111 acres of grassy "filter strips"
and 706 acres of wetland restoration, according to Donna
J. Jacobs, a program technician for the Farm Service Agency
in Bay County.
One of the filter strips was planted in Bay County's
Merritt Township in 2003 by Alan E. Gornowicz.
Gornowicz, who lives in Buena Vista Township and owns
220 acres of farmland in Buena Vista and Merritt townships,
said he got involved in the program to benefit the environment.
"The goal was to prevent erosion and keep dirt in
the field rather than in the ditches, rivers and other
waterways," said Gornowicz, who retired from farming
in 1991 and now rents the land to other area farmers.
"Maybe you don't eliminate the need to clean the
waterways, but maybe you only have to do it every 50 years,
rather than every 30 years, which is a plus," he
The $4 million state portion of funding will come from
the Clean Michigan Initiative, a state program established
in 1998 to protect water resources, according to Gordon
M. Wenk, deputy director of the state Agriculture Department's
Environmental Stewardship Division.
Funding must be approved by the state Legislature and
Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
"There is no one attempting to remove or reduce
that funding," said state Sen. James A. Barcia, D-Bay
City. "Even in these difficult budget times, this
is a program that is beneficial and cost-effective."
Barcia called the new CREP funding a "win-win"
for landowners and the environment.
Wenk said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service
Agency has already pledged to match any new state funds
at a four-to-one ratio.
That would bring the total amount of new funding for
CREP to at least $20 million.
CREP pays Michigan farmers and landowners, located in
the Saginaw Bay, Lake Macatawa and River Raisin watersheds,
to take farmland out of production for 15 years and establish
filter strips, wind breaks, wetlands, riparian buffers
and other wildlife habitats.
The program provides reimbursement funds for expenses
related to the conversion of the land, as well as money
to pay farmers an annual stipend for maintaining the land
during the length of the contract.
Since being put on hold, upward of 150 farmers in Bay
and Arenac counties have expressed interest in the program,
according to Kevin J. Wilson, CREP technician for Bay
and Arenac counties.
"I have a huge list of farmers interested and waiting
for the program to receive new money," Wilson said.
"There are some other federal programs for establishing
environmentally friendly practices, but the payments are
not as good."
Gornowicz's filter strip contains three types of native
grass - big blue stem, little blue stem and Indian - and
more than a dozen varieties of wildflowers.
Gornowicz is paid about $170 per acre each of the 15
years he maintains the filter strip. He said the annual
stipend is important.
"I don't think that anyone would have done this
without some form of compensation," he said.
Wilson, the local CREP technician, said once funding
is in place, landowners can begin enrolling new acres
into the program and can start establishing their wildlife
For information about CREP, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crep.htm
or call Wilson at the Bay County Soil Conservation District
office at 684-1040.