|Saratoga Springs, New York, February 20, 2012—American Farmland Trust (AFT), in partnership with local government agencies and communities, publicly released the Owasco Lake Agricultural Conservation Blueprint this week. The Blueprint helps the agricultural community take proactive steps to improve water quality in Owasco Lake while strengthening the economic viability of farming in the watershed.
“The farm community has a strong history of environmental stewardship in the Owasco Lake watershed,” said David Haight, New York State Director for AFT. “The Blueprint tells this story while giving clear ideas of actions that need to be taken to work with farmers to do even more.”
Owasco Lake, located in Central New York, is a small Finger Lake with a big watershed—nearly 205 square miles in size—that provides drinking water for the city of Auburn, the town of Owasco and private lakefront properties. Although water quality in the lake has improved since the 1970s, concerns remain as pollution generated by everything from septic systems and waterfowl to agriculture wind up in the lake.
Over half the land in the Owasco Lake watershed is agricultural, and farming is a critical part of the region’s economy, producing an estimated $36 million in revenue annually. Some farms in the watershed have close ties to agribusinesses and food processors while others provide fresh food directly to local consumers; all protect the rural landscape that attracts tourists. “Farms and vineyards are essential to tourism in Cayuga County,” said Meg Vanek, Executive Director of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism. “The wine trails, farmers markets and diverse landscapes and scenic drives they provide attract visitors. Our lakes and their water quality must be a priority in the Finger Lakes Region and initiatives such as the Blueprint foster stewardship of our water resources so that both visitors and residents will be able to enjoy our farmlands and waterways for years to come.”
The Blueprint provides data on the Owasco Lake watershed; identifies and offers solutions to reducing barriers that prevent farmers from adopting agricultural practices that improve water quality; and makes 19 specific recommendations for actions at the local, state and federal levels to help farmers improve water quality in Owasco Lake. “The most valuable thing about the Blueprint is that it brought the agriculture community and the non-farming community together to discuss the environmental protection of the watershed,” said Charlie Greene, engineer and president of the Owasco Lake Watershed Association. “We were able to find that there was common ground between the two camps regarding the restoration of the streams.”
Specifically, the Blueprint identifies four major challenges that need to be overcome for farmers to enhance their adoption of conservation practices, including: 1) the need for further research and guidance on conservation issues; 2) financial barriers for adoption of conservation practices; 3) public perception of farm practices; and 4) the loss of farmland to development. “Agriculture and the tourism generated by our healthy Finger Lakes are two critical economic drivers for Cayuga County,” said Geoff Milz, Cayuga County planner and member of the Blueprint steering committee. “Clean water and thriving farms are not mutually exclusive. Agriculture can be part of the solution to our water quality issues and the Blueprint shows us how.”
The Blueprint was produced with the financial support of the Fred L. Emerson Foundation, The Stardust Foundation of Central New York and Iberdrola USA Foundation.
American Farmland Trust is the nation's leading conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more.
AFT's national office is located in Washington, DC. Phone: 202-331-7300. For more information, visit www.farmland.org.