Energy and Enviromental Leaders Day
Dr. Homer Wilkes, NRCS Acting Associate Chief, Visits Rhode Island to Represents NRCS at U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Day
Dr. Homer Wilkes, NRCS Acting Associate Chief visited Rhode Island on May 1, 2012 to represent NRCS at the Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Day which was held at the University of Rhode Island's Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences Building where well over 150 attendees from the public and private sectors convened to discuss the importance of the health and protection of our oceans, rivers, and drinking water. Dr. Wilkes was one of four distinguished panelists who addressed "Watershed Management: Protecting the Ocean State's Waterways". The panel showcased innovative ways to protect our waterways from nutrient pollution and roadway run-off. Wilkes emphasized the importance of working partnerships with private producers here in Rhode Island and across the country where introducing proven conservation practices on private lands is essential to any efforts to conserve natural resources.
Through partnerships, NRCS Rhode Island is making a positive impact to improve water quality in Rhode Island through efforts in oyster restoration, aquaculture practices implemented under EQIP to reduce biofouling of the water, salt marsh restoration, fish passage, and various EQIP practices implemented upland.
NRCS is working with agricultural producers in Rhode Island and across the country to help ensure science-based conservation practices are in place to curb impacts to our watersheds and waterways. Through the Farm Bill's Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding, Rhode Island partnered with aquaculture farmers to improve water quality and wildlife habitat in the Narragansett Bay and Southern Rhode Island coastal salt ponds. In one project, NRCS collaborated with 13 aquaculture farmers to rear oysters on artificial reefs in the Bay and Southern Rhode Island coastal salt ponds. This is an instance where we used the brilliance of nature to find a solution to our problem - we used the natural filtering qualities of the oysters to filter out harmful nutrients from the water. Each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day and 30 million oysters were transplanted into protected sites controlled by the producers in just two years.
NRCS Rhode Island also works with aquaculture producers to implement gear cycling. This practice gives aquaculture operators a method to clean their gear on shore rather than directly into the bay or coastal ponds. This practice can result in improved water quality. To curb potential oil spills from their operations, 60 percent of all aquaculture producers in Rhode Island have worked with NRCS on this practice.
Restoring wetlands - nature's sponges is a large part of filtration and improving water quality. NRCS Rhode Island is working with landowners in wetlands like Gooseneck Cove, Aguntaug Swamp, and Jacobs Point Marsh to design and install new channels and water control structures to restore tidal flow into the salt marshes. Restoration of tidal flow reduces the presence of invasive plant species. In addition, the improved hydrology improves water quality, restores critical salt marsh plant communities, and protects endangered plant species such as the Atlantic White cedar.
Among other efforts, NRCS Rhode Island completed dam removals and installed fish ladders which also help landowners improve wildlife habitat and enhance water quality in the watersheds throughout the state and Narragansett Bay. Since 2006, we obligated more than $4.5 million in cost share to support fish passage in Rhode Island. Such projects support Rhode Island's $200 million recreational fishing industry by helping to ensure bluefish and bass are around for the long term.
In another effort to improve water quality, NRCS Rhode Island worked with more than 60 producers to install riparian buffers on their lands. These buffers improve water quality by filtering out sediments and nutrient run-off before they enter waterways.
Through Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans, we're curbing run-off from fertilizer and manure applications by providing a plan to assist the producer with the proper application rates of nutrients and animal waste which reduce the inputs of nitrogen and phosphorous into the waterways.
Lastly, forests protect watersheds and groundwater supplies that provide the bulk of our clean drinking water. More than 55 percent of Rhode Island is forested and 75 percent of Rhode Islanders get their drinking water from reservoirs protected by forests. NRCS has worked with private landowners to develop forest management plans on 9,000 acres in the state and implement forest stand improvement practices that help improve water quality.
All of the aforementioned efforts exemplify the fact that conservation is in fact working in concert with agriculture to help clean-up our watersheds and waterways. Producers realize the challenges we face and the importance of coming to a working solution. They are voluntarily stepping up to the plate to be a part of the solution. In the process they're finding that these practices are not only good for the environment but also helping to increase their agricultural yields and profits.