GRCA aims to improve rural water quality through funding program
New Hamburg dairy farmer recommends the use of the Waterloo Rural Water Quality Program
Feature Thu, Mar 24th, 2022 Veronica Reiner
By Veronica Reiner The Grand River Conservation Authority, in partnership with local municipalities, supports farmers who want to help protect and improve the water quality across the Grand River watershed. The Waterloo Rural Water Quality Program (RWQP) is funded by the Region of Waterloo, along with the counties of Oxford, Wellington, Brant, Haldimand and Dufferin. The program provides financial and technical assistance to farmers for the implementation of voluntary projects to improve and protect water quality. Kenton Roth is a dairy farmer who milks about 100 cows between Baden and New Hamburg and has used the program for several years. “We’ve got funding for a manure tank, diverting clean water through eavestroughs and things like that,” said Roth, on past projects funded through the program. He added that he noticed the local water quality is “cooler” and has much improved after these projects. Last year, the Roth family applied for the program for planting cover crops. Covers crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil, rather than to be harvested. There are many benefits, including preventing soil erosion, improving soil quality and fertility, competing with weeds, and helping control pests. “It really helps hold soil and uses up the nutrients that the manure has put on, and puts it into productive growth. Roots, over the winter, hold the soil protected from erosion as well,” said Kenton. He has planted cover crops for about seven years and has planted straight oats and tillage radish in the past. After the cover crops, Kenton said they typically go with corn the following year, and has run a rotation of corn, beans, wheat, cover crops, and starting all over again. When asked if he would recommend using the program to other farmers, Kenton said, “Definitely.” For cover crops, the program provides $60 per acre to a maximum of 50 acres. In total, landowners across the Grand River watershed completed water quality improvement projects with a capital value of about $3.7-million in 2021. More than $846,000 grants from municipal, federal and private donations were delivered through the RWQP to help offset the cost of 162 projects. Louise Heyming, GRCA Supervisor, said that the project has had “tremendous program success in the Wilmot and Wellesley area.” In Wilmot, 21 projects were completed in 2021, with 470 completed since the program’s inception. There were 39 projects completed in 2021, with 1,100 total. Oxford County within the GRCA watershed completed 11 projects last year, and 226 completed over the 24 years. Some examples of projects completed with this project include: • tree planting projects to establish windbreaks and stream buffers, • well upgrades and plugging of unused wells to protect groundwater, • manure storage facility upgrades to effectively manage nutrients and avoid winter spreading, • erosion control structures and cover crops to protect soil from wind and water erosion, • crop nutrient plans. Other water quality projects eligible for funding include mature storage decommissioning, clean water diversion, dead stock composting, livestock access restriction, fuel storage/handling, chemical storage and handling, machinery crossing improvements, milkhouse waste, living snow fences, natural area restoration and creation, nutrient management plans, crop nutrient plans, wellhead protection, and wellhead abandonment. The GRCA also has grant funding available to landowners across the watershed through programs such as Forests Ontario or the federal Habitat Stewardship Program for aquatic species at risk. The organization recently wrapped up a targeted project in the Upper Nith watershed that focused on projects to minimize phosphorus loss from the fields. “It was funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada through the Great Lakes Protection initiative,” said Heyming. “Through the one-year project, over 50 projects were completed to help manage phosphorus losses from fields. This included things like cover crops, livestock fencing, erosion control structures, soil testing, and nutrient crop planting.” The RWQP program was established in 1998 to address non-point sources of sediment and nutrients and to protect groundwater. The GRCA contributes program delivery as well as administration costs. Local farm organizations provide input into the development of the program, and continue to be involved in program guidance through participation on the Project Review Committee. The committee meets quarterly to approve project applications based on environmental benefit. To apply, landowners can call 519-621-2763 ext 2242 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A GRCA conservation specialist will help complete the applications. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis.