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Cuomo announces $12 million in state funding to keep farmland contamination-free

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The Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District hopes to help a handful of farmers install systems to keep their water contamination-free by applying for a piece of $12 million in state funding available for such projects this year.

Announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this week, the $12 million in funding is down $200,000 from last year’s allocation for the Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution program, which aims to protect lakes, streams and rivers from water contamination. The grant funding is available to county Soil and Water Conservation Districts through the state Environmental Protection Fund.

Jefferson County’s conservation district has garnered funding for farm projects numerous times over the past 15 years, said Christine M. Watkins, executive director.

Past farm projects led by the district have tackled water contamination problems with manure-storage facilities, silage leachate storage and roof management, Mrs. Watkins said. Those projects often are completed on medium- to large-size dairy farms that qualify as Concentrated Animal Food Operations, or CAFOs; horse farms need to comply with a host of federal regulations to prevent water contamination from manure runoff.

Last year the district applied to fund three projects at farms under the program, but it only garnered funding for one project under $50,000, Mrs. Watkins said. She hopes the district will rebound from that performance this year, however, by acquiring funding for multiple projects. One project already planned by the district would involve planting crop covering on about 450 acres of farmland over the next three years, she said. That project would aim to preserve crop land while also safeguarding it from water contamination problems.

“We have been successfully applying for projects over the past 15 years to bring in upward of a few million dollars in funding,” she said. “We are certainly hopeful that we will submit at least one proposal, and perhaps multiple, for funding this year but don’t yet know what projects farmers” will apply for.

The district will apply for funding this spring for the program, in which landowners usually are required to contribute a matching amount of 25 to 30 percent of project costs, Mrs. Watkins said. Historically, projects on farmland near watersheds in Sandy and Stony creeks in southern Jefferson County have been more likely to receive funding than those planned on watersheds in the northern region, due to the documentation of contamination problems.

“Projects that are the most deserving usually get funded, but some of our frustrations have been with documentation issues,” she said. “The DEC has published a water-problem priority list, and certain water bodies in the county are listed while others are not. Sometimes funding is not available in certain areas because there’s not a documented need.”

In a prepared statement, Gov. Cuomo lauded the state program’s success at keeping farms safe and clean.

“This $12 million will help local farmers across New York maintain a clean water supply, which is vital to their livelihood,” he said. “With our support, New York’s farms are going to continue to expand, creating more jobs and making our state’s homegrown products popular across the country.”

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