regional conservation Partnership Program
The Alliance for Puget Sound Natural Resources was instrumental in securing $9 million dollars in the USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funds plus Washington state match to implement a precision conservation approach to address water quality and salmon habitat resource concerns in the Puget Sound. The Alliance also serves as an advisory group to the program administration team at the Washington State Conservation Commission. Learn more about RCPP by visiting these websites:
Scroll down for project profiles and information about the geographic priority areas for RCPP funding.
Working with Snohomish landowners to Improve Water Quality
The Snohomish River Basin is the second-largest tributary draining into Puget Sound in Washington State. Its size and scale makes it a high priority for salmon habitat enhancement in the Snohomish River Basin Salmon Conservation Plan. The basin is fed by the Sultan, Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Pilchuck, and Snohomish rivers and drains into Port Gardner Bay in Everett.
The Snohomish Conservation District (SCD) has a 75-year history of collaboration with private landowners in Snohomish County. In response to the critical need for the protection of Puget Sound and the vast network of salmonid streams and rivers that flow into it, SCD has developed programs that draw on its heritage of working with partners and landowners on land and water resource concerns. A skilled team of engineers, resource planners and specialists works with landowners on a voluntary, non-regulatory basis.
SCD’s current work on the Snohomish/Skykomish River watersheds began in 2010 with the development of Snohomish County’s Sustainable Lands Strategy. “We tried to really understand what’s going on along each section of the river,” explained Monte Marti, SCD’s Executive Director. “One key section that we evaluated was the Skykomish and lower Snohomish rivers. There’s a particular interest in several areas along each of those reaches that would benefit from increased landowner participation and involvement.”
“A new landowner assistance program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), fits extremely well into our Sustainable Lands Strategy efforts,” said Marti. “RCPP gives us an opportunity to work with producers on individual projects to design, fund and implement best management practices on their farms.”
The funding provided by RCPP—through a federal program called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP—will be directed toward two key activities:
Reduction of nutrient loading through improved nutrient management, including installation of improved manure management systems, exclusion of animals from streams, and improvement of soil health and nutrient management.
Removal of in-stream fish barriers, such as removing or replacing culverts and/or bridges that obstruct spawning salmon.
“I consider this program to be a building block for a more comprehensive and robust community effort to deal with our natural resources and natural resource management,” said Marti. “This project needs to go on well beyond the next five years. As a community, we need to look seven generations down the road for salmon recovery, for agricultural viability and for the preservation of our family farms.”
For more information please contact: Eric Schuh, email@example.com
Photo credit: Chris Hendrickson, Monroe Valley Monitor News
Newaukum Creek project proves the value of partnerships
The Newaukum Creek basin drains about 27 square miles of land in portions of King County and the City of Enumclaw, contributing important cold water fish habitat to the Green and Duwamish river systems. Currently, portions of the creek exhibit unhealthy temperature and oxygen conditions that do not meet state water quality standards.
To address these conditions, American Farmland Trust (AFT) and King Conservation District (KCD) are teaming up to help King County farmers implement conservation practices and improve water quality through the Newaukum Creek Precision Conservation project.
Located in the upper reaches of the Green River watershed in eastern King County, the Newaukum Creek area is home to dairy, livestock, horses, and field crop farms. Farms border six miles of the creek, where livestock access to streams and a lack of riparian vegetation contribute to the creek's history of water quality issues. AFT’s primary goal is to improve water quality by reducing stream temperature and the amount of nutrients and fecal coliform in the stream.
Coordinating and combining investment dollars and funding sources, including the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), to maximize benefit to the environment and the local farming community, is a key part of AFT’s approach.
“We’re treating this as a pilot project for organizing coordinated investment in a watershed and being extremely precise about how to implement the funds for maximum return on investment,” explained Leif Fixen, American Farmland Trust’s Pacific Northwest Conservation Program Manager. “Having five different organizations trying to do the same thing and not talking with each other is obviously very inefficient. Instead, we’re pooling everybody’s funding and being strategic to get the biggest bang for our buck.”
Receiving RCPP funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is crucial to implementing larger scale projects in the watershed. “With this focused funding source added to the coordinated investment, greater impact will be achieved on larger farms and acreages, said Fixen. “It’s exciting to see NRCS ‘thinking outside the box’ with RCPP and being more targeted and comprehensive with their programs.”
Fixen estimates that AFT is about 25 percent through the overall project. “A year in, we’ve administered the low hanging fruit phase,” he said. “Now we’re moving into our precision conservation phase with a focused landowner outreach strategy. Our precision conservation approach acknowledges that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. We’re focusing on the right practice in the right place for the best return on investment.”
Preserving farmland and improving water quality in the Thomas Creek basin
Thomas Creek is a major tributary to the Samish River in Skagit County. As reported by the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Samish watershed has had problems with bacteria pollution for a couple of decades.
Bacteria in the river, other streams and the bay frequently reach levels too high for safe shellfish harvest and safe family recreation. In addition, farmers, especially those who irrigate from surface waters, are concerned about water quality. They want to provide assurance to consumers that their food products are safe.
The Skagit Conservation District (SCD) has worked in partnership with the Clean Samish Initiative for the past six years to address water quality issues in the Samish watershed that lead to shellfish bed closures. And, they’ve seen marked improvements in water quality. Many landowners have developed conservation plans and implemented best management practices or BMPs. However, there is still work to do, and through targeted efforts in the Thomas Creek basin, the SCD is striving for greater levels of landowner participation.
The goal is to achieve a 90% landowner participation rate, and thereby reduce potential fecal coliform from livestock manure from entering Thomas Creek during heavy rains. In addition, SCD will provide permanent protection of prime agricultural lands as well as the critical natural resources and habitats those lands support.
The efforts surrounding Thomas Creek are supported by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) with funding directed toward three key activities:
Working with livestock landowners to implement best management practices to reduce fecal coliform bacteria in streams and rivers.
Restore stream-side areas to improve fish habitat.
Preserve farmland through conservation easements.
Farmland preservation is a unique component of the Thomas Creek project explained Carolyn Kelly, manager for the Skagit Conservation District. “Our RCPP project is different from the other two early action projects because in addition to EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) it includes Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) funds to enable the major purchase of development rights. We will be partnering with Skagit County to secure about 400 acres adjacent to Thomas Creek, staving off development and preserving high quality agricultural land.”
Along with easement efforts and providing technical assistance, the Skagit Conservation District is using RCPP for outreach and education, increasing knowledge of resources and engaging more members of the agricultural community. “This is especially helpful when there is a practice they didn’t know was covered by cost share and communicating about new innovative BMPs,” said Kelly. “Our goal is for water quality to be everybody’s responsibility. If everybody does something we’ll see a cumulative impact.”
For more information please contact: Jennifer Coe, firstname.lastname@example.org
Puget sound priority areas identified for rcpp
The Opportunity Assessment for Targeted BMPs published in March 2016 will be used to help select projects for Puget Sound’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funding. The report, prepared by scientists at The Nature Conservancy, identifies priority areas for implementing best management practices on agricultural lands to improve water quality for salmon freshwater habitat, marine shellfish habitat, and the combination of those two.
Priority geographic areas of the Puget Sound basin for this program are denoted by the blue and dark blue areas on the Opportunity Assessment Map. Projects located in the priority areas will be a higher priority for funding.
"The Opportunity Assessment is a corner stone of the precision conservation approach at the heart of the State Conservation Commission's Puget Sound RCPP. The precision conservation approach focuses effort and funding in high priority geographic areas to realize natural resource improvements,” said Ron Schultz at the Washington State Conservation Commission.
For more information about the report, please contact Kat Morgan, The Nature Conservancy Puget Sound Community Partnership Manager at email@example.com.