Celebrating watershed farmers for Ontario Agriculture Week

It’s no coincidence that Ontario Agriculture Week (Oct. 7 to 11) coincides with Thanksgiving: a time to enjoy the abundance of local food available to us. Agriculture should be appreciated every day, and during Ontario Agriculture Week we celebrate food and other agriculture products that we enjoy daily, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Ontario’s farm families.

Approximately one million people in the Grand River watershed depend directly on groundwater or the river and its tributaries for clean drinking water. Since approximately 70 per cent of the watershed is actively farmed, farmers have an important role to play in protecting water. The Region of Waterloo recognized this connection and introduced the Rural Water Quality Program (RWQP) in 1998 to help farmers implement best management practices (BMPs) on their land to improve water quality both on their farms and downstream. For the past 21 years, Waterloo farmers have been able to access both technical assistance on the farm and cost share funding to implement water quality improvement projects on their properties.

Seeing the benefit of this cost-share program, other municipalities across the province have implemented their own RWQP, including Wellington County (1999), Brant County (2002), Haldimand County (2012) and Dufferin County (2017). Each program is funded by the municipality and guided by local farm organizations. The RWQP offers grants ranging from 50 per cent to 100 per cent of the cost of selected BMPs, for projects such as: stream fencing, tree planting, manure storage, well decommissioning and more. The GRCA contributes administration and delivery costs as part of levy supported service to the municipalities. The GRCA also delivers the Oxford County Clean Water Program, which is administered by the Upper Thames Region Conservation Authority, and a Well Decommission program on behalf of the City of Hamilton.

Since the RWQP was launched in 1998, there have been over $18 million in grants provided to more than 6,400 projects across the watershed. Together, landowners and funding partners have invested over $51 million in water quality projects.

This June, the Wellington RWQP celebrated its 20th anniversary with a bus tour. Since 1999, the Wellington RWQP has provided $9.1 million in grants to support the completion of 2,974 projects including:

• 897,000 trees planted on 1,400 acres, including 202 km of windbreaks and 67 km of stream buffer

• 468 water wells decommissioned to protect groundwater

• 111 fencing projects restricting nearly 5,000 livestock from watercourses, creating buffers and stabilizing banks along 48 km of watercourse

• 131 cover crop projects protected 6,459 acres of farmland from erosion over winter

• 202 nutrient management plans help guide efficient nutrient applications on about 41,507 acres

• 186 manure storage facilities were built to avoid winter spreading and efficiently manage nutrients

Having a long standing grant program with on the ground staff has allowed the GRCA to build trust in the farm community, and has provided the opportunity to see farms evolve over time.

Recently, Jenn Deter, a GRCA Conservation Specialist, was contacted by the son of a Wellington County farmer with whom she worked on a stream fencing and buffer project in 2000. While back on the farm this summer to discuss other potential projects, she was able to see the fencing project 19 years later. “The son was amazed to see the ‘before’ photos,” said Jenn. “The environmental benefit was obvious – getting the cattle out and planting trees to shade the water and create habitat – all because his father chose a better management practice 19 years ago.”

To learn more about the Rural Water Quality Program and read the stories of real farmers who have implemented various RWQP projects on their land, please visit www.grandriver.ca/ruralwater.

If you are interested in discussing a project on your property, please contact GRCA staff at 519-621-2761 or email ruralwater@grandriver.ca.

Jenn Deter, GRCA Conservation Specialist