U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Congressman Tim Bishop urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week to designate the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay watershed as a critical conservation area.
Such a designation could lead to increased federal funding to help protect and improve the quality of drinking water and estuaries by assisting the agricultural community in adopting more water-friendly practices.
Lawmakers pushed for the designation through a newly created federal watershed program under the 2014 farm bill, which passed earlier this year. Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop pointed out that steering critical funding toward Long Island would address water quality issues and enhance soil fertility, allowing Long Island farmers, who faced devastation from Superstorm Sandy, to access tools to help adapt to severe weather patterns.
“Safeguarding Long Island’s water quality is vital to preserve and protect economic vitality of the Sound and help Long Island farmers for generations,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Designating Long Island as a critical conservation area will provide the needed federal resources to improve the health of the Sound.”
“Protecting the quality of Long Island’s water is an urgent priority,” said Congressman Bishop. “I commend Long Island’s farm community for its leadership in adopting more environmentally-friendly farming methods to conserve water and ensure that it is suitable for drinking and basic needs. I am pleased to work with Senator Gillibrand in sending this message to the secretary of agriculture with the hope that USDA will designate the Long Island Sound watershed as a critical conservation area with federal funding to meet our water quality goals.”
“I commend Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop for their efforts to seek more investment to protect the most important resource Suffolk County has: our water,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Our federal representatives know that water quality is worth the fight. It affects our quality of life, our economy, our land values, our tourism industry and our recreational use of Suffolk County’s waterways. I join our federal representatives in their efforts and will continue to make water quality the top priority of my administration.”
The new partnership program, known as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, promotes coordination between Natural Resources and Conservation and its partners to provide federal assistance to farmers and landowners. Regions must apply in order to be eligible for the program and be eligible for federal funding.
Lawmakers in a press release said that water quality issues in Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay watershed are of state and national significance. Examples of the kind of agricultural conservation practices that would address water quality issues include the purchase of agricultural conservation easements, nutrient management, cover crops, conservation tillage, alternative pest management methods and bio-controls, the use of controlled-released fertilizers, well water testing, riparian buffers and filter strips. This initiative would also incorporate soil health practices that are a national priority for NRCS and are valuable to Long Island farmers. Conservation practices to enhance soil fertility would also aid in adaptation to severe weather patterns, which are an increasing threat as evidenced by Superstorm Sandy last year.