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Healthy Watersheds Begin on Private Lands

By: Tivoli Gough, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

America’s Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario — hold 21 percent of the world’s surface fresh water. This water provides habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife and drinking water for more than 40 million people.

But the lakes suffer from pollution. This pollution damages the aquatic ecosystems and poses risks to human health. In recent times, algal blooms in Lake Erie underscored the importance of continued conservation efforts in the region.

From cover crops that reduce runoff of soil and nutrients, to water quality monitoring, farmers have the tools they need to help improve water quality.

Ohio Farmers Show Their Commitment to Protecting Lake Erie

Healthy waters are essential for farmers and ranchers; livestock need water to drink; water is used in the irrigation of pastureland for grazing and growing crops; water is used for harvesting and processing, and so on.

While no single approach will eliminate nutrient loading to Lake Erie, we do know that conservation practices applied as a whole-farm system will reduce surface and subsurface nutrient losses from agricultural fields.

Just south of Green Bay, Wis., in the Lower Fox River Watershed, is a network of farms devoted to improving water quality in the Great Lakes.

These demonstration farms show examples of the best, leading-edge conservation practices to reduce phosphorus entering Green Bay and Lake Michigan to improve Great Lakes water quality.

The six farms in the network demonstrate the effectiveness of conservation practice systems to reduce erosion and sedimentation, control phosphorus runoff, and address other nonpoint source pollution issues. 

Farmers and landowners, partners, government officials, universities, and many other groups have toured these innovative farms, and participated in demonstration farm days.

Six farms participate in the network: Brickstead Dairy; Nettekoven Farms; Tinedale Cropping; Van Wychen Farms; New Horizons Dairy, LLC; and Vande Wettering Farms.

Demonstration Farms Host Field Days for Hands-on Learning

The diversity of the region creates challenges for managers to develop conservation practice systems that function in a predictable manner while addressing the region’s conservation priorities.

NRCS is proud to be one of 11 federal agencies supporting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) —a tool to help land users improve water quality, restore and protect vital habitat, and provide cleaner water and healthier ecosystems.

The Great Lakes Region has many land uses, from mixed forests to cultivated cropland.

Want more information? View the Great Lakes Restoration Fact Sheet.

When farmers and ranchers work to improve water quality on private lands, they also help provide the nation with clean waterways, safe drinking water and healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.