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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Releas October 20, 1997


Centreville, MD, October 20, 1997-- Vice President Al Gore today announced that the Clinton Administration and the state of Maryland have joined together in a new initiative to help protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. This agreement serves as a model for other water quality efforts nationwide.

Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have formed a partnership that will expand an existing program, USDA's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), by allowing up to 100,000 acres of environmentally-sensitive land along Maryland streams and rivers to be set aside and maintained to protect water quality.

"This new partnership will further protect the water resources of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay," said Vice President Gore. "This agreement means cleaner water, healthier fish, and a stronger environment for every family in Maryland. By protecting the lands adjacent to the tributaries of the Bay and by restoring wetlands, we can significantly reduce the amount of nutrients, sediment, and pesticides that reach the waters of the Bay."

This new initiative, the State Enhancement Program (SEP), is designed to build on the success of the CRP by allowing USDA to work in partnership with states, link resources and share costs to meet conservation and environmental objectives. Maryland is the first state to participate in a SEP. Illinois and Minnesota have submitted proposals for SEP agreements to the USDA.

"While we begin this effort in Maryland, we believe it is a model that can apply to other states as well," said the Vice President. "Clean water is not a regional issue. It is a national issue."

USDA and Maryland expect to contribute a total of about $200 million for this program. Both will provide 10 to 15-year contracts, cost-share assistance, and technical assistance to encourage landowners to devote environmentally sensitive cropland or marginal pasture land adjacent to streams, rivers, or other water bodies to long-term resource conserving vegetative covers.

Riparian buffer areas, land along stream and river banks, can reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients reaching streams or rivers by as much as 90 percent if properly planted with protective vegetation. Wetlands play a vital role in filtering pollutants and restoring water quality.

"This new initiative reflects the Clinton Administration's commitment to voluntary, cost-effective conservation programs," Glickman said. "Problems associated with run-off from agricultural lands, as well as from urban areas, are real and must be addressed. Working with farmers, ranchers and other landowners through these kind of state and federal partnerships will go along way to addressing water quality problems."

To encourage applicants to protect these environmentally sensitive lands, USDA will make annual incentive payments. USDA and Maryland also will help pay for the cost of planting long-term resource conserving vegetation and for restoring wetlands. Maryland will provide technical support to all applicants. Maryland also may purchase permanent conservation easements to protect riparian areas.

Today, some 27.8 million acres are enrolled in the CRP. About 20,000 acres in Maryland now are enrolled in the program. The CRP protects millions of acres of American topsoil from erosion, and, by reducing water runoff and sedimentation, it protects groundwater and helps improve countless lakes, rivers, ponds, streams and other water bodies. All of these acres are planted to vegetative cover or other forms of wildlife habitat.

Landowners interested in enrolling acreage in this State Enhancement Program or participating in the regular CRP may visit a local USDA Service Center for additional information.

The Clinton Administration's SEP Agreement with Maryland: A Model Partnership to Protect Water Quality October 20, 1997

Today, Vice President Gore and Agriculture Secretary Glickman join Maryland Governor Glendening in announcing a landmark agreement between the State of Maryland and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect water quality through the State Enhancement Program (SEP).

The SEP agreement establishes a voluntary, $200 million incentive program, under which Maryland's landowners may enroll up to 100,000 acres of cropland in the Conservation Reserve Program to restore wetlands and to establish forest and grass buffers between farms and fragile waterways. These conservation measures are essential to combating soil erosion as well as to protecting Chesapeake Bay tributaries and other Maryland waters from runoff of phosphorous, nitrogen, and other pollutants that impair water quality. Polluted runoff from agriculture and a range of other sources such as sewage and urban runoff is known to contribute to the proliferation of harmful marine organisms in the Chesapeake Bay.

Today's SEP agreement establishes a program that could allow Maryland to put a buffer between every acre of farmland in the state and every permanent stream, as well as many seasonal streams. Full enrollment in the program could provide buffers along 5,000 stream miles by the year 2002.

The use of buffers and related conservation measures encouraged by this SEP agreement have enormous benefits for water quality. For example, studies have shown that forest buffers can remove 90 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorous in water passing through them.

Under this program, USDA will make annual rental payments to participating farmers through 15-year contracts. Maryland will fund permanent conservation easements on 20,000 acres of enrolled lands. Together, USDA and the State of Maryland will pay landowners 87.5 percent of the cost of planting buffer strips, restoring wetlands, or implementing other measures to protect water quality. This approach promotes the best agricultural practices while strengthening the economy of Maryland's rural communities.

This agreement is a major milestone in President Clinton's initiative, announced in Kalamazoo Michigan in August, 1996, to target federal farm programs to protect water quality and to create stronger incentives for farmers to help agricultural runoff.

This agreement also establishes a model for a series of such agreements. Illinois and Minnesota already have submitted proposals for SEP agreements to USDA, and Secretary Glickman has announced his commitment to complete agreements with additional states as soon as possible.