By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Erie County will receive more than $1.1 million from New York state for farms that influence the Tonawanda Creek watershed.
Mark C. Gaston, a field manager for the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District, said about a third of the amount will go to seven farms in the northern reaches of the county to stem agricultural runoff, while the remainder will be used for similar initiatives along Eighteen Mile Creek. The competitive grant was awarded through the state Department of Agriculture and Markets via the Environmental Protection Fund, which announced contributions of $12.2 million to 209 farms in 27 counties.
The grants, focused on priority watersheds statewide, will allow soil and water conservation districts to address the quality of water related to nearby farms. Gaston said $352,485 of the funding will go to northern Erie County, where the 90-mile creek weaves through farms in Alden, Clarence, Newstead and Amherst, before merging with Ellicott Creek and out to the Niagara River in the Tonawandas.
Gaston said unlike the the DEC, which mandates environmental action in terms of runoff and erosion along waterways, the farms involved in the recent grant process did so of their own volition and will also contribute financially to the cause.
“It’s a cost-share program,” Gaston said. “We’re helping kind of push them over the edge.”
The owners of the farms will implement “best management conservation practices” that include prescribed grazing for cattle, water management and buffers along waterways, as well as fuel spill prevention and containment.
The announcement follows several statewide initiatives that point to the importance of New York’s agricultural industry including a recent proposal by Republicans in the state Senate to strengthen the $5.2 billion industry by expanding markets for local produce and other investments.
DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said because farmers depend on the health of land and water for their livelihood they are often strong environmental stewards, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a statement released this week, said that well-managed farms are key to their economic viability.
“Through this program, we are supporting farms across the state to put in place best practices when it comes to protecting water quality in their areas while ensuring the continued production of fresh, local food supply,” he said.Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.