Unique Farm Program To Help Protect New York Drinking Water

August 26, 1998

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today applauded the announcement of a unique farm program that will pay farmers in upstate New York to help clean and protect New York city’s tap water. The New York City Watershed Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) will combine federal and city money to recreate forest and grass buffers around streams feeding New York City’s water supply reservoirs in the Catskills. These buffers filter polluted runoff that could otherwise contaminate water supplies.

“The program shows how big farm programs can be tweaked to help solve critical water quality problems in the northeast,” said EDF senior attorney Tim Searchinger. Searchinger suggested the Enhancement Program idea to the US Department of Agriculture in the spring of 1996, and proposed this Enhancement Program to New York City officials in the fall of that year. New York’s program now joins those successfully underway in Maryland, Illinois, and Minnesota, which have been approved to restore between 300,000 and 500,000 acres.

“Protecting the drinking water of 10 million people highlights the potential of Enhancement Programs to cleanup pollution running off of farms,” added Searchinger. “It completes the transition of the federal Conservation Reserve Program from what was once a subsidy program with an environmental gloss into a program that truly offers incentives to solve the country’s most critical environmental problems - such as protecting the drinking water for 10 million people.”

Enhancement Programs combine state funds with the $2 billion annual federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to implement science-based plans that restore habitat and filter polluted runoff for a river or bay.

“A key to this agreement was the recognition by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman of the need to make higher incentive payments in the New York area that reflect the economics of the region,” said Searchinger. “The original CRP program has not worked well in the Northeast, which has enrolled less than 1% of the 36 million acres enrolled nationwide. Much of the credit for the change in policy is due to Congressmen Sherwood Boehlert and Jim Walsh of New York because they made a strong case for the change and showed that Congress would support it. Congressman Walsh insured that the House Appropriations Committee included language in its reports supporting this new program as well.

“As small dairy farms in the northeast struggle to compete with bigger farms in the midwest, their future may depend on their ability to sell both milk and conservation benefits like clean water,” said Searchinger.