Project aimed at restoring Arkansas River in western Kansas

Acting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Chuck Conner has announced a new $22.7 million conservation project with the state of Kansas that will enroll approximately 20,000 acres of cropland in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to help improve water quality and quantity in the upper Arkansas River.

Through the Upper Arkansas River CREP, USDA and Kansas will enroll eligible irrigated or non-irrigated cropland in 14- to 15-year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts within the project area. The CREP project area includes all or parts of Barton, Edwards, Finney, Ford, Gray, Hamilton, Kearny, Pawnee, Rice, and Stafford counties. Participants sign CRP contracts with USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). The Farm Service Administration (FSA) administers CRP on behalf of CCC.

The primary goals of the Upper Arkansas River CREP are to conserve irrigation water and improve water quality by removing land from agricultural production and planting it to native vegetation. The project will reduce agricultural chemicals and sediment from entering Kansas watersheds.

In return for CREP payments, participants will relinquish water rights connected to the land, not only conserving water but establishing permanent vegetative cover. These practices are intended to slow the decline of the aquifer level and boost water supplies to the upper Arkansas River. In addition, this project will enhance habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, conserve energy, and reduce erosion.

To be eligible for this program, an agricultural producer's land must meet specific requirements. For example, at least 51 percent of non-irrigated (dryland) cropland must be located within the project area and meet CRP cropping history requirements.

To be eligible for the program, irrigated cropland must have been planted and irrigated at the rate of not less than one-half-acre foot per year for four out of six years from 1996-2001. Other eligibility requirements may apply. Contact a local FSA office for more information.

The following eligible practices may be established under this program:

  • permanent native grasses and legumes, 18,600 acres;
  • permanent wildlife habitat, non-easement, 400 acres;
  • shallow water areas for wildlife, 200 acres;
  • vegetative cover grass already established, 400 acres;
  • filter strips, 100 acres;
  • riparian buffer, 100 acres; and
  • wetland restoration (floodplain and non-floodplain), 200 acres.

Under the Upper Arkansas River CREP, participants will receive annual rental payments and other incentives from CCC and the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) for voluntarily enrolling land in contracts. Eligible participants will receive cost-share payments up to 50 percent of the eligible reimbursable costs of establishing approved conservation practices. CCC will provide a one-time signing incentive payment and a practice incentive payment for certain conservation practices. CCC will also make a one-time incentive payment equal to 25 percent of the cost of restoring the hydrology for certain practices. CCC will develop conservation plans, conduct compliance reviews, and provide information to potential participants.

For its part, KDA will provide a one-time payment of $62 per irrigated acre or $35 per irrigated acre depending on the soil type of the area. KDA will pay a one-time state wetland bonus of $350 per acre to program participants. It will pay up to $1,000 in cost-share assistance for optional plugging and proper abandonment of a well at the request of the participant for wells where the water right has been terminated. Under the program, KDA will also provide staffing and support to monitor and evaluate changes, provide a program coordinator, establish a program steering committee, and seek potential participants.

The total cost for the Upper Arkansas River CREP over a 15-year period is estimated at $22.7 million. KDA will contribute at least 20 percent of the overall annual program cost through a combination of payments to program participants, new funding for the CREP project, and in-kind services. Ten percent ($2.27 million) must be in the form of either direct new payments to program participants or new funding for a CREP project. CCC will pay the remaining costs for the program.

A component of CRP, CREP is a federal-state natural resources conservation program that addresses state and nationally significant agricultural-related environmental concerns. Under CREP, program participants receive financial incentives from CCC to voluntarily enroll in contracts of 10 to 15 years. Participants remove cropland and marginal pastureland from agricultural production and convert the land to native grasses, trees, and other vegetation.

More information about this project can be found online.