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WAC Officials & Farmers Collaborate With Columbia University

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 12/4/23 | 12/4/23

First Steps of the $2.95 Million Study to Mitigate Climate Change Effects on NYC Water Supply

By Mary A. Crisafulli

WALTON - Nearly three million in Congressional Community Project Funding was awarded to Columbia University in January to address climate challenges to agriculture and water quality in the NYC watershed. WAC leaders are working to collaborate with the university to address recommendations by the 2018 National Academy of Science review of watershed agreements with New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The study seeks to provide the proper knowledge to guide future decision-making and the development of a climate action plan to sustain NYC water quality. The project will develop integrated assessments of the impacts of current and predicted future climate conditions on the watershed. Climate conditions will include extreme weather event analysis. The study will further examine presently used agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) and their potential effectiveness based on the current and future climate. BMPs are structural, vegetative, or managerial practices that reduce water pollution. The main goal is to improve BMPs to maintain water quality and farm productivity as climate conditions change. Examples of BMP testing in farm systems include animal waste storage, nutrient management planning, prescribed grazing, precision feed management, strip cropping, riparian buffers, and barnyard runoff.

Phase one of the project is to collaborate with farmers to gain a better understanding of current BMPs and any concerns with how they operate. The first meeting took place in early November. WAC officials discussed the outcome of the meeting at their regular meeting on Nov. 28. The overall thoughts were positive.

WAC Chairperson Wayland Gladstone reported that roughly eight beef and dairy farm representatives joined the meeting with one vegetable farmer. "I thought the questions were very engaging," he said. Columbia University staff asked farmers to discuss the benefits of BMPs and what the farm looked like prior to its implementation. Gladstone, a beef farmer himself, explained that before the BMP of a covered barnyard, "It was a mess...with deep snow, mud, and ruts, you have a mess and water quality wise, it was just awful." 

WAC Council Member Fred Huneke, a retired dairy farmer, said he tried to put an emphasis on the need for the preservation of agricultural land in the watershed given the circumstances with water in other parts of the world. "In the next 10 to 15 years we will see a lot of ag. move back into New York and the midwest," he predicted.

WAC Council Member Thomas Huston noted that dairy farming is phasing out of the area while beef is growing. Huston, a beef farmer, said it was important to recognize the potential for beef farming in the area.

WAC Council Member Jennifer Grossman said the Columbia University representatives were well-trained and professional. She added that their interest in the conditions of watershed-specific farms was genuine.

Dr. Dwight Bruno, WAC council member, said the conversation regarding difficulties farmers face surrounding marketing and finances was important to convey to Columbia representatives. "It highlights the importance of keeping in touch and making sure the data and conclusions they draw are done so not in a vacuum but with solid facts behind them," he said.

Watershed Stakeholders, New York State Department of Health (DOH), and DEP representatives continue to meet regarding the expansion of DEP Streamside Acquisition Program (SAP) and adjustments to city easement language. SAP currently exists as a pilot program in the Schoharie Reservoir. The program seeks to acquire properties along streambeds in the NYC watershed in order to protect water quality. Meetings are not open to the public. DEP is required to provide a written approach to DOH by the end of December, said DOH Representative Patrick Palmer.

In other business, the council approved several nutrient management projects. Nutrient management plans help to map out when, where, and how much manure can be spread on a farm with minimal risk to the water supply. The WAC Nutrient Management Credit rewards farmers who spread manure according to a nutrient management plan. Farmers eligible are required to submit manure spreading records annually. Farmers earn roughly $10 per acre and $12 per animal unit. Over 100 farmers were awarded credit in the 2022/2023 Nutrient Management Credit program.

The Pure Catskills membership fee was increased for the first time in 20 years from $35 to $45. The ad space for the program was also increased by $5. The increases will help support the extra demand for membership to grow the Pure Catskills program, said Grossman.

The next WAC Council meeting is scheduled Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.

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