OWASCO — The $600,000 grant the state allocated in 2015's legislative budget for research and projects around Owasco Lake's harmful algal blooms has so far helped implement three projects to reduce nutrient loading in the watershed.
Called water and sediment control basins, the projects were installed this year on farmland that crop farmer Jim Sierzenga owns or rents for his corn, wheat, alfalfa and soybeans. The fields come up right to Sucker Brook in the town of Owasco, and in the past, Sierzenga said heavy storms would cause water to flow right across the top, carrying silt and nutrients into the stream.
"The main object for what they call a water and sediment control basin, they're meant to capture surface water that flows through the landscape at a certain site," said Jason Cuddeback with the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District. "Both sites, there was quite a lot of erosion, so there was a lot of surface erosion that would accumulate and then get to Sucker Brook tributary, there to Owasco, which is obviously not where you want it to go."
Sierzenga said the newly installed projects are working. With the many heavy rain events this summer, they had plenty of opportunity to be tested.
Instead of the rain washing across his field, the water drains into the slope of a burm, collecting there and draining into a field tile buried underneath the ground. While Sierzenga said there's debate over how beneficial field tiles are for the environment, he said he thinks they work, keeping a large amount of water from falling in sheets across the land.
Sierzenga added his own touch to the project, putting up a wire fence around the basin to prevent corn husks and large debris from clogging it.
About $386,000 of the $600,000 has been allocated for specific projects in the watershed. The three basins installed cost about $19,200. The way the grant funding was set up, however, the landowner is responsible for 25 percent of the project cost, and the grant covers 75 percent.
Bob Brower, president of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, has been hired to manage the project work and is being paid part of that grant funding to do so. He and Cayuga County Soil and Water District Executive Director Doug Kierst have expressed frustration at some water quality meetings that not all landowners, especially non-farmers, want to financially contribute to some of these nutrient controlling projects. Sierzenga said he had no problem contributing some funds. In fact, he said, he tries to tackle one project to better the watershed on his own dime each year. He was pleased to have some financial help for these ones.
"We are trying," he said. "Farmers are trying voluntary practices since I've been doing it. We've changed our farming practices tremendously for good...We can only do so much when you get two, three-inch rainfall events. It's hard to prevent everything."
Some of the land Sierzenga rents from Roderick Lawrence of Sennett. One of the control basins is on Lawrence's land, and he, too, said he was happy to help out the watershed. He said the practice actually helps his farm save topsoil, making his farming better, too.
"This summer we had some torrential rains," Lawrence said. "Some of the rain was two inches an hour, but I'm proud I did it. I really am. Plus, it made the lot better actually. I tell everybody it's worth doing. You're saving topsoil. It's for your own self. Yes, you're cutting down the pollution and like that, but if you're going to save the topsoil, and you're trying to make a living off of it, why not do it?"