Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar today announced that Colorado and USDA have agreed to the terms of a new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to help conserve irrigation water and reduce ground water withdrawal from the Rio Grande Basin. The project will enhance water quality, reduce erosion, improve wildlife habitat and conserve energy in portions of the Rio Grande watershed in Colorado. Vilsack and Salazar made the joint announcement at the 2012 Colorado Water Conservation Board Statewide Drought Conference.
"USDA is proud to work with the state of Colorado to enroll up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland in an effort to address critical water conservation and other natural resource issues within portions of the Rio Grande watershed," said Vilsack. "USDA's Conservation Reserve Program continues to be one of our nation's most successful voluntary efforts to conserve land, improve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitat resources--and now producers in Colorado have even greater incentives to enroll in efforts to protect the Rio Grande Basin."
This agreement is for the establishment of permanent native grasses, permanent wildlife habitat, shallow areas for wildlife and wetland restoration on up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland with a primary goal of reducing annual irrigation water use by approximately 60,000 acre-feet.
The sign-up date for this voluntary conservation program is expected to be announced soon after an agreement is formalized later this year. Farmers and ranchers in portions of Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache counties will then be able to apply for this program at their Farm Service Agency (FSA) service center. FSA will administer the Colorado Rio Grande CREP within these counties, working with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state of Colorado's Department of Natural Resources through the Division of Water Resources, Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and other state and local CREP partners.
After the agreement is formalized, participants will (1) voluntarily enroll irrigated cropland into specialized 14-15 year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, and (2) enter into water use agreements with Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. An additional perpetual irrigation water retirement agreement also will be an option for producers to help achieve long-term water savings.
The following national CRP conservation practices will be made available for eligible land focusing on water resource conservation:
Establishment of Native Grasses and Forbs -- CP2
Establishment of Permanent Wildlife Habitat, Non-easement -- CP4D
Establishment of Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife -- CP9
Restoration of Wetland Habitat -- CP23 and CP23A
CREP is an option under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that agricultural producers may use to voluntarily establish conservation practices on their land. The project will provide land owners and operators financial and technical assistance. Under this CREP, participants will receive annual irrigated rental payments, cost share and incentive payments for voluntarily enrolling irrigated cropland into contracts and installing the approved conservation practices. USDA also will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing the conservation practices. Additional special incentives and cost share will be provided by the WAE for land enrolled within a designated focus area within the project area. Additional incentives will be provided by the subdistrict's WAE to producers who elect to retire water permanently. Participants will establish permanent vegetative covers on enrolled land according to CRP conservation plans developed by NRCS.
To be eligible, cropland must meet CRP's cropping history criteria, which includes cropping history provisions, one-year ownership requirement, and physical and legal cropping requirements. Marginal pastureland is also eligible for enrollment provided it is suitable for use as a needed and eligible riparian buffer. Producers who have an existing CRP contract are not eligible for CREP until that contract expires. Producers with expiring CRP contracts who are interested in CREP should submit offers for re-enrolling their land into CREP during the last year of their existing CRP contract.
In 2011, as a result of CRP, nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields were reduced by 623 million pounds and 124 million pounds respectively. The CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduces soil erosion by more than 300 million tons per year. CRP also provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners--dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs. In addition, CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.
In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.
For more information about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program or CRP, contact the local FSA service center or search online at www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.