The farmers and ranchers of the North Canadian River Watershed celebrated changes they have made to ensure the metro area’s primary source of water is protected from contamination from agricultural runoff.

“We’re commemorating the conversion of more than 20,000 acres of cropland to no-till practice and the protection of the first eight miles of stream bank protected by riparian buffer strips,” said Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. “More than 500 acres of high erodible cropland has also been converted to pasture to further protect the water from contamination.”

Pope said that although local conservation districts asked to begin the program in 2004, landowners were not able to initiate the project until 2007 when cost-share funds were provided through state and federal conservation programs. Ag producers have been paying money out of their own pockets in order to implement these practices. Out of pocket costs vary for each producer but funding from the state, EPA and NRCS for the watershed project totaled more than $2.5 million.

Trey Lam, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, said he hopes to see cleanup and conservation practices from non-agricultural entities.

“It should be noted that the agriculture producers in this area initiated this effort because they wanted to do what was most important for the environment,” he said. “We hope that the rest of Oklahoma will be encouraged to join in the continued protection of our resources.”

“There are many possible sources of bacteria and nutrients that can be contaminants; storm water run-off from municipal systems, old septic tank systems and wildlife as well as many others,” Peach said. “It is critical we all work together to preserve the greatest resource of all, water.”

“Our producers and conservation districts saw the need for these changes long ago and it is important we recognize the steps they have taken to protect the water supply and improve the environment of this watershed,” said State Secretary of Agriculture, Terry Peach. “Agriculture is being proactive in protecting our resources and we would hope everyone who works and lives in this watershed will also take steps to promote clean water.”