CREP – Additional Pieces Fall in Place

Additional Pieces Fall in Place for Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program as Program Continues to Grow

In June the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) took action approving the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority (TMUA) application for buffer protection along streams supplying water to Lakes Eucha and Spavinaw. This will complete the state’s match requirement for Oklahoma’s first Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) signed by Gov. Brad Henry and U.S. Deputy Sec. of Agriculture Chuck Connor in April 2007. The program offers 15-year contracts with landowners to establish stream buffers in both the Eucha/Spavinaw Watershed and the Illinois River Watershed. The total program provides $20.6 million with $16.5 million coming from USDA and $4.1 million from the state, including the $1.25 million made available to TMUA through the OWRB loan. The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission (OSRC ) and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) have provided the $2.88 million remainder of the $4.1 million state share.

CREP was the next logical step to follow years of work by conservation districts, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and the OCC to address animal waste issues in these two critical watersheds. Animal waste application has been restricted by state law since 1998, and buffers and pasture management practices have been installed by both NRCS and OCC with USDA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state-funded priority watershed project monies. Their success paved the way to allow a larger scale buffer program like CREP to be acceptable to landowners who desire to protect streams without harming a farm’s economic health. CREP provides rental payments for 15 years to the landowners who will set aside a stream corridor buffer which in turn limits the amount of nutrients entering the stream from the farm. In the case of the money provided by TMUA, in cooperation with Land Legacy and the OCC, payment will be offered to Eucha/Spavinaw Watershed landowners willing to make stream buffers permanent. Certainly, with this first-in-the-state loan to provide funding for nonpoint source issues, Tulsa has pioneered the use of OWRB’s loan fund to cooperate with Oklahoma farmers for the purpose of protecting vital water supplies.

More good news is that the state’s first CREP will soon be expanded. With passage of the federal Farm Bill, which re-authorizes CREP, Oklahoma will apply to increase the total funding in the Eucha/Spavinaw and Illinois River CREP to $35 million using additional monies provided by OSRC and OCC.
In addition, Gov. Henry’s and the Legislature’s action to provide a $25 million conservation bond will make available monies to initiate a CREP ($15-25 million) for Cobb Creek and Sugar Creek, both in Caddo County and both damaged by last year’s inland hurricane. OCC will consider bond funding priorities in their July meeting.

Finally, a third CREP application will include an initiative by Elk City to protect their recreation lake which also happens to be an upstream flood control dam threatened by fecal bacteria. Elk City may apply for a loan just as Tulsa did and this amount will be combined with money provided by OCC to match four times as much money from USDA. We hope to read of more loans by OWRB to further nonpoint source protection of Oklahoma waters.