Grass & Grain

Grass & Grain 01-27-15

Agricultural Newspaper

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By Donna Sullivan, Editor On January 15, Agricul- ture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that 100 high-im- pact projects across all 50 states will receive more than $370 million as part of the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Public-private part- nerships are the focus of RCPP as private companies, local stakeholders and other non-government partners have the opportunity to in- vest in conservation efforts. Three projects in Kansas – one of which is a multi- state project approved through a national ranking pool, and the other two are state-level projects – will re- ceive funding. The state- level projects are "Advanced Irrigation Water Manage- ment on the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas," with the lead partner being the South- west Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3; and a Pheasant Initiative, which will partner with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. "Improving Water Quali- ty Through the Implementa- tion of Forestry Practices and the Assessment of Ri- parian Systems in Kansas' Priority Watersheds" is the multi-state project that will be headed up by Kansas State University – Kansas Forest Service. The project was awarded a $13 million RCPP grant. Numerous stakeholders including landowners, wa- tershed specialists, members of the forestry department, sponsoring agencies and state government officials gathered on a stream bank on the Little Blue River in Washington County on Fri- day, January 16 to hear de- tails of the project. With surface water reser- voirs in Kansas having lost 40% of their storage capaci- ty due to sedimentation, sta- bilizing stream banks in ten high-priority watersheds is a priority. State Forester Larry Biles, who worked on the grant proposal, addressed the group. "We had very willing and cooperative partners, " he said. "I said that if we should win this award, it's a Kansas victory, not an agency victo- ry." Biles said he committed to two things in the grant proposal, the first being to implement forestry practices on the riparian systems of Kansas. He added that their number one charge will be to get some of these riparian systems restored around the state and then improve the timber on those riparian sys- tems. The existing timber is not generally a high-quality timber, according to Biles, and although it does a good job of stabilizing stream banks, the Forest Service would like to see timber quality improved. The second commitment made in the grant proposal was an assessment piece, where, mainly through aerial photos they will determine what issues there are and where they're located. "Through the assessments we'll identify sites needing improvement, determine the ownership and make landowners aware of the is- sues they have on their prop- erty through educational events and maybe even some letters and cold calls," Biles explained. "We'll inform the landowners of practices to improve the issue they have on their property and make them aware of sources of as- sistance." Biles said he is pleased that the Kansas Forest Serv- ice has an action plan going back several years that iden- tifies seven issues: Wildfire issues, which includes smoke management; Forest health issues, water issues, conserving the economic value of woodland re- sources, bio-diversity, wildlife habitat, agro- forestry activities, which in- cludes windbreaks and those types of things; and wood- land conversion. "We're see- ing a lot of woodlands re- moved right now for higher dollar agriculture, and we understand that," he said. "But at some point I think we have to slow that down, otherwise, we're going to continue to feed these reser- voirs with sediment." Under water quality, they also have objectives that in- clude working with local watershed groups to sustain, manage and establish ripari- an forests. "It's our intent to work from the water body upstream," he described. "And we're going to try to do it in a contiguous fashion so we can enhance the cumu- lative effects of getting these stream banks stabilized." Lastly, they will work one on one with landowners to de- velop management plans. The land where the event was held is owned by Dow- nard Family Farms, LLC. The owner lives in Ames, Iowa and has renters who take care of the property. The owner expressed concern about losing part of the stream bank and wanted to know what steps could be taken to correct it. Tree planting projects were estab- lished in 2012, with four dif- ferent phases totaling nearly 2000 plants. Thad Rhodes of the Kansas Forest Service described the process. One- to two-year-old sycamore trees, which are faster-grow- ing and more quickly estab- lished, were planted on the inside, closest to the river. "You can plant them fairly close, so you get the trees to grow pretty well and train themselves up," he said. "In the future, you can maybe thin some of them out." Transitioning to the next sec- tion, a combination of sycamores, black walnuts and burr oaks were planted. "The land-owner was really interested in the walnuts and oak trees for two purposes," Rhodes said. "From the wildlife perspective and for the timber value down the road." On the outside edge American plums were plant- ed to help catch some of the debris if the river spills out, and also to add wildlife in- terest. On the very outside a strip of native grass will be planted. The project doesn't end with the planting, though, according to Rhodes. "These bottomlands are very productive for trees, but they're also very produc- tive for weeds. So it's very important to stay involved with these projects through the first few years to get them to be a success." Biles has an analogy he likes to use to emphasize the importance of educating landowners and the general public about the value of these projects. "I remember back 50 years or so ago when the surgeon general first put on packs of ciga- rettes that they may be haz- ardous to your health. If we had put all of our energy and money into lunch surgery rather than education pro- grams, we would not be where we are today," he said, of efforts to curb the number of people who start smoking. Because the projects are all voluntary, having the landowners understand their benefits is important. "When we implement practices, it's because the landowner wants that prac- tice," he clarified. "It's not something that we in gov- ernment are going to force on them." Kansas among recipients of conservation grants A bank on the Little Blue River in Washington County was where State Forester Larry Biles announced the $13 million RCPP grant his agency was recently awarded. Rep. Sharon Schwartz and Kansas Deparment of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism secretary Robin Jennison were among those gathered to hear details of the grant. (AP) – Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is vowing to establish a 50-year water plan for the state before the end of his term, but budget constraints may delay big-ticket projects. Western Kansas' water supply is heavily dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer, which has been steadily depleting, leaving some counties unable to irrigate crops. Brownback has said that Ogallala's storage could be down to 30 percent capacity in 50 years if nothing changes. Meanwhile, eastern Kansas relies upon surface reservoirs, which are in- creasingly filling with sediment and many are majority-owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, told the Senate Nat- ural Resources Committee during the opening week of the legislative ses- sion that a $20 million project to dredge the John Redmond Reservoir would begin this summer. Streeter proposed that the state buy the full fu- ture use of the Perry and Milford reservoirs for $30 million. Streeter said that under the state's current contract with the Corps, it can use about one-third of Milford's supply and one-sixth of Perry's. The corps, which controls the rest, could potentially divert its share in those re- sources to clients outside the state, he said. The state would also save money by making the purchase now because accrued interest will have pushed the price tag up to $50 million by the end of the contract in 2042. "That is something that I've always looked at to become self-sufficient in our state, to make sure that we have that water,'' said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican on the Natural Resources Commit- tee."`But, I don't see how we can start any multi-million-dollar projects given the financial situation that we're in today.'' During the session, Kansas lawmakers will be forced to fill budget shortfalls of more than $710 million for the current fiscal period and the one beginning July 1. Those constraints make the largest proposed water project, the Kansas aqueduct, even more difficult to fathom, McGinn said. The aqueduct would cost $18 billion and require $1 billion per year to operate, according to a draft report released this month. Its cost could rise significantly with the inclusion of works to mitigate its environmental im- pact, Streeter said, and potential conflicts with other states using the Mis- souri River have yet to be studied. Brownback, who cited the ambitious water plan in his State of the State address, is expected to form a panel by late February to focus on ways to finance upcoming water projects. "Right now, all we clearly recognize is that there is a volume of water in the Missouri River that we've got to seep away to make available for Kansas use, whether it's an aqueduct or whether it's some other use,'' Streeter said. ``We know what to do. We just don't know how to pay for Kansas water officials seek big projects amid budget crunch

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