By Deborah Seiler
U of I News Bureau
URBANA — University of Illinois Extension has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to help farmers and landowners reduce nutrient loss into Illinois waterways, including the lower Rock River.
Extension will use the award to hire two watershed coordinators, who will work in high priority areas and help producers implement best management practices identified in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.
“Creating a strategy that addressed the concerns of everyone affected was a tremendous effort,” says Extension Director George Czapar. “What’s exciting about this grant is that now Extension has more capacity to help with implementation and making that vision happen on the ground.”
The watershed coordinators will focus on four high priority Illinois watersheds beginning in early 2018. A coordinator in the Embarras River and Little Wabash River watersheds will work closely with farmers to reduce nutrient loss, with an emphasis on phosphorus. In the Lower Rock River and Mississippi North Central River watersheds of northwestern Illinois, a coordinator will work to reduce nutrient loss, with an emphasis on nitrogen.
“We are excited to partner with University of Illinois Extension on this project. The watershed coordinators will play a key role in implementing the Illinois Nutrient Reduction Strategy by providing outreach and technical assistance to farmers and stakeholders in select priority watersheds,” says Illinois EPA Director Alec Messina. “This is yet another example of our Agency’s commitment to assist the agricultural community in reducing nutrient loss and improving water quality through voluntary efforts.”
Members of the agricultural community have already been heavily involved in nutrient loss education, reaching nearly 39,000 people at agricultural outreach events in 2016. According to the USDA, 70 percent of Illinois farmers were aware of NLRS conservation practices in 2016.
The grant to Extension also provides funding for an agricultural water quality science team composed of researchers from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. The team will provide technical support and serve as a university resource to help develop new approaches for protecting water quality, and include faculty Laura Christianson, Reid Christianson, Cameron Pittelkow, and Maria Villamil in the Department of Crop Sciences; Jonathon Coppess in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics; Paul Davidson in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; and Suzanne Bissonnette, assistant dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Extension.
Illinois EPA’s NLRS Coordinator, Trevor Sample, says, “Being connected to the scientists on this team is important. We want the watershed coordinators to not only provide outreach and education, but also serve as technical advisors on practices like cover crops and bioreactors.”