Rabbit River Sediment Reduction
The goal of this project was to encourage farmers to try best management practices that reduce erosion in their fields. Nine farmers participated in the program, implementing best management practices on over 2600 acres and preventing over 1500 tons of sediment from entering the Rabbit River. These practices included conservation tillage methods that reduce soil disturbance, and planting cover crops which stabilize soil when cash crops are not being grown.
Sediment runoff has long been a concern in the Rabbit River. As sediment accumulates in rivers, they tend to become shallower and wider which disrupts flow patterns that provide habitat for fish and other aquatic species. Sediment also covers gravel beds in the river bottom where many fish species spawn. Often, nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen also travel with the sediment entering the river. Too much of these nutrients can create a variety of problems for an ecosystem like we’ve seen in Lake Erie with algae blooms that reduce oxygen in the water and release harmful toxins.
The team for this project was a partnership including Allegan Conservation District, Delta Institute, Michigan Farm Bureau, and Michigan State University’s Institute of Water Research, with funding provided by a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The project team provided technical and financial assistance to farmers enrolled in the project, and worked to include the project area in the Great Lakes Watershed Management System—an online computer modeling application.
Many similar programs pay farmers based on the acreage of land on which they implement these practices, but this project tested a new payment structure that paid farmers for every ton of sediment erosion that they prevented. This strategy provided an easy and reliable way to reward work in areas with more erosion, and work that more efficiently prevents erosion. In an upcoming project, Allegan Conservation District and Delta Institute hope to demonstrate how this funding structure can be used to create a market-based solution to the problem of sediment and nutrient runoff.
This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement GL00E02208 to Delta Institute. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency, nor does the EPA endorse trade names or recommend the use of commercial products mentioned in this document.