Agencies Partner to Enhance Stewardship and Protect Vital Water Resources

Agencies Partner to Enhance Stewardship and Protect Vital Water Resources

By Karen De Vito

On Wednesday, October 29, 2003, Governor George Pataki announced a $62 million dollar agreement between the New York State Agriculture Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement the New York State Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The $62 million is a combination of state and federal investments, with $10.4 million coming from New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund, and the remaining $52 million coming from the USDA.

CREPs are used across the United States in an effort to address significant agriculture-related environmental problems, such as increased nutrient loading and erosion, decreased water quality, and increased presence of pathogens. The New York CREP will help farmers address these issues by providing financial incentives from the USDA to voluntarily retire cropland or pastureland for a period of 10-15 years. Once enrolled in the program, the land will be converted to native grasses, trees and other vegetation, which will enhance water quality and provide additional habitat for wildlife.

This newly created CREP will join the two CREPs that have already been established in New York, one in the metropolitan New York region and the other in the Syracuse region. Under this agreement 12 major watersheds across New York, which when combined comprise approximately 73 percent of the state’s farmland, will be targeted. Of the twelve watersheds selected, the following four fall within the Great Lakes Basin: Black River/St. Lawrence Watersheds, Genesee-Oswego-Seneca-Oneida River Watershed, Lake Erie-Niagara River Watershed, and the Lake Ontario Direct Drainage Watershed. The 12 watersheds were specifically selected because they are all listed as impaired as a result of agricultural activities on the New York State’s Priority Waterbody List.

This new New York CREP, was established with the following four goals:

1) Reduction of nutrient loading of:

  • phosphorus from 145, 284 pounds per year to 72,642 pounds per year
  • nitrogen from 77,376 pounds per year to 38,688 pounds per year
  • sediments from 175,316 tons per year to 70,126 tons per year

2) Reduction of the potential for waterborne pathogens
3) Establishment of riparian buffers adjacent to 4,598 stream miles and 473, 457 acres of surface waters
4) Establishment of conservation cover on areas that serve as EPA approved wellhead zones


In order to enter into the program, cropland must have been cropped four of the six years between 1996 and 2001 and the land must be physically and legally capable of being cropped in a normal manner. For their participation in the program farmers receive rent for the acreage they enroll, as well as tax credits, reimbursements for following USDA-approved conservation practices, and incentives for certain conservation methods.

CREPs are just one tool used as part of New York State’s Agricultural Environmental Management Program (AEM), which was created in 2000 to address water quality issues associated with agricultural practices. AEM operates at the state and local level to provide financial, educational and technical assistance to farmers for developing and implementing AEM Plans. AEM in New York has proven to be successful across the state with more than 8,000 farms participating. In fact, NY’s AEM has been hailed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “an innovative state program that has put New York in the forefront of a national effort to help farmers identify and address agricultural nonpoint source pollution,” (EPA Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III).

For more information about the CREP program contact your local USDA Farm Service Agency or go on the web at For additional information about NY’s AEM visit


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.