Missouri's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
The goal of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is to reduce the amount of pesticides, sediment, and excess nutrients that enter drinking water reservoirs. Many communities in northern and western Missouri rely on small lakes to supply their drinking water. These reservoirs also happen to be in productive agricultural areas. Excessive soil loss from tilled cropland has long been a detriment to drinking water reservoirs. When the sediment washes into a drinking water lake, the reservoir’s capacity to store water diminishes over time. Dredging or building new reservoirs is an expensive undertaking for small communities.
Suspended sediments, excess nutrients, and pesticides result in increased cost and reduced effectiveness of the treatment process. Additionally, the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in drinking water regulations, making it ever more challenging for small communities to meet current standards. In 1994, ten Missouri water systems exceeded the newly established maximum contaminant level for Atrazine. Atrazine is a common pesticide that also washes off from cropland. All ten water systems quickly came into compliance by adjusting their treatment techniques. Treatment techniques, alone, are not a practical way to solve every problem that flows into a drinking water lake. Those systems, as well as all the other systems relying on surface water have had to become more aware of what is happening in their watersheds. A few municipal water systems began paying incentives to farmers to not use Atrazine in the watersheds of their drinking water lakes.
By 2001, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program had become available to reduce all forms of pesticides, sediment, and excess nutrients threatening these lakes. CREP is a cooperative effort between the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the State of Missouri. The program is similar to the traditional Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that reimburses farmers in the form of annual rental payments to retire cropland from production. One difference is that CREP provides higher incentives and has fewer restrictions on farms that want to participate. Another difference is that CREP only targets cropland in watersheds of small drinking water reservoirs. The contracts typically last 15 years. While the cropland is out of production, it provides valuable wildlife habitat. Partners such as Quails Unlimited and the Missouri Department of Conservation have offered additional incentives for land owners interested in making their land especially enticing to wildlife by planting native grasses or even trees.
Many state agencies and organizations play a role in CREP. At the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, both the Soil and Water Conservation Program and the Public Drinking Water Branch have a hand in the funding of CREP. The Soil and Water Conservation Program provides a program to help farmers with a portion of the cost of planting their fields into grass. The Public Drinking Water Branch has made grant funds available to public water systems that wish to participate in CREP. These funds are used to pay incentives to the farmers enrolling in the program. These two forms of state funding serve as essential state match money, which is required for receiving the federal funding from USDA. In total, USDA pays for 80 percent of the program.
In addition to providing match for the federal funds, Missouri also committed to measure and report on water quality improvements related to CREP. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is cooperating with the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) to map the bathymetric contours to record the current amount of sedimentation in each lake. LMVP data will likely also be used in conjunction with other available data to measure the long-term effects of CREP.
The Public Drinking Water Branch has awarded rural water grants to 17 communities that are participating in CREP. These grants total approximately $1.6 million. Over 15,000 acres have been enrolled in CREP. The USDA approved Missouri’s CREP for a total of 50,000 acres and recently extended the enrollment deadline to September 2007. Missouri has an opportunity to further improve the quality of drinking water if more participants can be enticed to enroll in CREP.