Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's recently announced that Heidelberg University has been awarded a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency within USDA, funded a $590,000 CIG proposal from Heidelberg University's National Center for Water Quality Research aimed at reducing the phosphorus entering into Lake Erie from agricultural fields.
"Conservation Innovation Grants activate creativity and problem-solving. Reducing harmful algal blooms by reducing their food source, phosphorus, requires that kind of thinking because we're still trying to understand exactly what's happening, " says Michelle Lohstroh, acting NRCS State Conservationist in Ohio. "These grants are critical for developing and demonstrating conservation solutions that improve America's farmland and natural resources. We're glad Heidelberg University could help us in USDA's effort to advance agriculture and improve water quality in the Great Lakes."
Heidelberg's proposal will build on the research and demonstration projects already underway to determine exactly how phosphorus gets into the Lake. Last year, NRCS selected a $1 million CIG proposal from Ohio State University for a project to develop a phosphorus index farmers can use to make decisions that will decrease the chance of phosphorus leaving their fields. Many of the researchers and conservation professionals are working on both projects, as well as other projects with the same objectives. This type of collaboration, sharing knowledge and experiences, accelerates discovery.
Heidelberg University's water quality research center has a 35-year data set from water quality monitoring in the Sandusky Watershed where the project will take place. This rich data set and long history of collaborating with many groups towards the common goal of reducing non-point source pollutants in the Great Lakes gives them a solid platform for this new project. The other partners in this project, including area farmers, will help with edge-of-field water quality monitoring, calibrating and refining environmental models to the Great Lakes region, and demonstrating the most effective best management practices for holding phosphorus in place.
The NRCS funds these grants through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Grantees must work with producers to develop and demonstrate the new technologies and approaches. At least 50 percent of the total cost of CIG projects must come from non-Federal matching funds, including cash and in-kind contributions provided by the grant recipient.