Source protection enhanced with $ 7.1 million farmland grant
The effort to protect the area’s sources has received a boost of $ 7.1 million through a federal grant to an ongoing Alachua Conservation Trust project.
ACT’s Surface to Springs program works to stem pollution from springs by conserving the farmland around them, with the goal of permanently protecting 9,000 acres of private land and improving the quality and quantity of water on 2,000 acres.
“The funding is primarily aimed at protecting farmland with conservation easements for conservation value,” said Erica Hernandez of ACT. “But our goal is to find areas where we can also contribute to the health of sources through the quality and quantity of water.”
The springs are an essential part of the economy of the communities close to them, which depend on the spending of visitors who come to dive, tube, paddle and swim in the natural pools and their tracks.
Yet many sources in the region suffer from nutrient pollution in the form of algae growth, a depleted aquifer, and other stresses.
The grant comes from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture.
It is part of a regional conservation partnership program that includes Alachua County, the Suwannee River Water Management District, the Florida Farm Bureau, and several state agencies.
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The objective is to obtain agreements with landowners for conservation easements that would allow continued use of the land while protecting it from further development or more intensive use.
In other cases, ACT will jointly fund projects with landowners in an attempt to reduce impacts on water, by keeping livestock away from areas near streams, for example.
“We will be looking for ways to reduce the intensity so that there is less intense use of water and nutrients in the landscape,” Hernandez said. “We have been working in this region for some time and have a lot of relationships with the citizens who own the land. We have a sense of who we are working with and who we think would be a good fit for this program. “
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has regional partnership programs nationwide to keep small farms alive while protecting water and wildlife.
Its source region includes parts of Alachua, Marion, Bradford, Gilchrist and Columbia counties.
“These new projects will harness the power of partnerships to help provide solutions to natural resource issues across the country while supporting our efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” said Juan Hernandez, environmentalist for the Florida service, in a Press release.
The $ 7.1 million grant is a significant amount for ACT, which hopes to have projects capitalized over the next five years.
Erica Hernandez said ACT has a list of priority projects, adding that the organization is still looking for landowners interested in joining the program.