One scientist with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality says the key to improving our watersheds is educating our farmers. A new partnership between the LDEQ and the state and federal departments of agriculture aims to do just that.
WRKF's Tegan Wendland had a conversation with Jan Boydston, Senior Environmental Scientist at the LDEQ, about the new initiative, which focuses on educating and training farmers in Acadia, Lafayette, Vermilion, Catahoula and Tangipahoa parishes.
WENDLAND: Can you tell me about the new initiative and how it's different from your past efforts?
BOYDSTON: Yes, I'll be happy to do so. The nice thing about the National Water Quality Initiative is that we'll be able to leverage funds - we'll be able to leverage funds from the US Department of Agriculture to be able to target small areas, to work with dairymen, rice farmers, folks that grow rice and soybeans - to try to get the right kind of practices on the ground that will be able to reduce nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous, and sediments entering our rivers and local streams that cause some water quality problems.
WENDLAND: Have you found that focusing on farmers is a really effective way to improve our water quality?
BOYDSTON: Yes. If we look across the state of Louisiana, and the state of Louisiana is very much like many of the others in the United States, a type of pollution called non-point source pollution is really the largest remaining water quality we have to solve. Non-point source pollution is different than a point-source in that the pollutants are delivered whenever it rains so that things like sediments, nutrients, fertilizers, pesticides, all types of pollution that come, not only from the agriculture sector, but from forestry, from urban runoff, all of those types of land use activities enter our waters and it's complicated to solve those problems and the state and federal government has limited oversight and regulation to require it. So working with the farming community and the forestry sector through a voluntary program that implements best management practices is really, I think, the best way to get there.
WENDLAND: What's the incentive? You mentioned in the press release that you're going to offer financial and technical assistance to farmers - what's that going to look like?
BOYDSTON: I think the incentive program is very good. The farmer gets anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of the cost to implement the practices are paid for by the USDA or the Louisiana Department of Agriculture. That's the other nice thing about this: in addition to the national funds that are coming in through the USDA our state department of agriculture has applied for USEPA dollars through section 319 of the Clean Water Act, so they will also have funds going to these four watersheds. That means we'll be able to see a leveraging from state and federal dollars, along with the monitoring by the LDEQ.
WENDLAND: Can you give me some specific examples of what these new practices might be?
BOYDSTON: It depends on which watershed we're talking about. For instance if you're over in the Big Creek which drains out into the Tangipahoa River the big issues are dairy, pastureland runoff, and our in-stream water quality problems there have to do with fecal coliform bacteria that make us a little concerned about swimming uses in that part of the state. So the types of practices we're implementing - there are 15 to 20 dairies there - so they'll be working with those dairymen to look at offering an alternative watering source. Instead of a cow going down to the stream to get its water they could put pond in or a watering trough in and the USDA would help them with the cost of that. Other things that they could do is fencing - perhaps they didn't have fencing along the stream to keep the cows out and in the hot summer months like we have in Louisiana the cows want to get down to the stream, you can't blame them for that, so if you put fencing along the edge of the stream it will keep them out. Also, instead of traditional grazing, more of an innovative type of grazing where you rotate the animals around the field so they're not in one location and they don't overgraze that way and the natural nutrients that they deposit are able to help the pastureland grasses be restored by the time they get back to the side again. So those are the types of things that they'll be doing within our watershed and I really think it'll make a difference in our streams.