Improving Water Quality in the South Branch Watershed
Beginning in 2014, the Van Buren Conservation District (VBCD) has worked with local farmers, the Village of Paw Paw, and other partners to reduce sediment and nutrient pollution in the South Branch of the Paw Paw River Watershed. The South Branch flows into the Village of Paw Paw and supplies most of the water for Maple Lake.
Approximately 64% of the land that drains to the South Branch is used for agriculture. Traditional Farm Bill programs, a drain assessment reduction program, and a special pilot payment program (sponsored by the Village of Paw Paw) were promoted throughout the area. These programs offered financial incentives to farmers who adopted management practices that reduce polluted runoff like no-till, cover crops and buffer strips.
By the numbers – since 2014:
|570 tons of sediment runoff reduced|
|668 pounds of phosphorus runoff reduced|
|1,383 pounds of nitrogen runoff reduced|
|2,422 acres of cover crops planted|
|690 acres converted to no-till|
|382 acres converted to reduced till|
|22.2 acres of wetland restoration|
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are we working with farmers in the South Branch of the Paw Paw River? The South Branch Watershed includes the Eagle Lake Drain and Gates Extension Drain which are impaired by sediment and nutrients from bank erosion and agricultural runoff. Over 64% of the land that drains to the South Branch is used for agriculture, so working with farmers was critical.
How do changes in farm practices help improve water quality? When farmers reduce tillage and plant cover crops (grasses planted after crops are removed) and buffer strips (vegetation areas planted along rivers), it helps keep sediment and nutrients on the farm and out of the water. These practices build soil structure to help improve water retention and nutrient recycling, so are good for both the farmer and our lakes & rivers.
What type of farmer participated in the project? The majority of the South Branch’s agricultural land is used for growing corn and soybeans, along with other crops like vegetables, grapes, and hay. Corn and soybean growers were targeted for this project, both because they are the most prevalent, and those crops offer unique opportunities for reduced tillage and cover crop use.
How do farmers learn more about these practices? The VBCD offers conferences and field days for farmers to learn more about these practices through demonstrations and expert speakers. VBCD technicians offer support through management plans, resources for seed, equipment and technologies, as well as offering cost share to help farmers offset costs of changing practices.
Who were the project partners? Farmers, Van Buren Conservation District, the Village of Paw Paw, Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, Department of Environmental Quality, Two Rivers Coalition, Van Buren County Drain Commissioner, Friends of the St. Joe River
Cover Crops – Grasses, legumes, or forbs established for seasonal cover and conservation purposes (reduces erosion from wind and water, increases soil tilth, manages excessive nutrients, conserves soil moisture, and increases biodiversity).
No-Till – Starting in the fall, leave most of the crop residue on the soil surface at all times (50% minimum cover after planting) and planting the next crop into the residue to protect the land from excessive sheet and rill erosion.
Reduced-Till (Mulch-Till) – Starting in the fall, leave some of the crop residue on the surface at all times (30-50% minimum cover after planting). Residue adequately controls erosion by both wind and water.
Grass Filter Strips – A vegetative grass strip that is seeded with appropriate seeding mixtures to filter sediment, nutrients, pathogens, and pesticides to help stabilize concentrated flow to reduce gully erosion.
This project was funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. For more information please contact Colleen Forestieri at 269-657-4030 x5 or firstname.lastname@example.org.