The long-term health of Seneca Lake is crucial. Not only for maintaining the region’s drinking water supply- but also for the sake of tourism and agriculture. Later this month, a farming symposium will focus on what’s known as Payment for Ecosystem Services and Carbon Capture Programs, which pay farmers to sequester carbon.
The programs work the same way that a lot of current agriculture incentive programs do by paying farmers to take certain steps. Instead of paying farmers to plant certain crops- it encourages certain types of actions that benefit the environment. Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association is teaming up with the Town of Geneva to make this symposium happen- but the implications spread throughout the region.
Jacob Fox, of SLPWA said he’s hopeful that this kind of program can work outward throughout the Finger Lakes. “Basically, there’s a growing trend and desire to pay farmers for the value that they can provide in clean air and clean water protection,” he explained. “And so these payments, ecosystem marketplaces if you will, currently exist, and some are still being developed- so we want the goal of this symposium to be to let farmers know what’s available on that front, and also engage with them in a conversation.”
One of the speakers at the virtual event is from a Hudson Valley farm group that has taken on this kind of initiative. Fox said it’s a great model for the Finger Lakes. “It’s paying farmers for their ecosystem services- it’s a win-win,” he explained. “It’s happened in other parts of the country and world- it’s all in search of improved soil health and environmental stability.” Australia currently has a national carbon market, which started last year. In the U.S., both California and Vermont have rolled out similar initiatives. Fox says that SLPWA and the Town of Geneva have been talking with Tompkins County Cooperative Extension, discussing the possibilities on how to make a Finger Lakes-specific marketplace. One major difficulty- in simply looking at other states or regions that have tackled this kind of program- is the lack of ‘plug-and-play’ options.
Soil and environmental needs are widely different across states. However, a region like the Finger Lakes is ideal for finding overlap so that a collective market can be arranged. “We’re really focusing on the water quality piece- obviously, it’s something that everyone has become much more aware of in the last few years,” Fox continued. To that end, improving the top soil on one acre of land can translate to 25,000 gallons of water being held. Retaining water in one area, instead of allowing it to runoff very quickly can have a significant impact on lake health- if executed on a regional level.
“If you live downstream from a farm- you know, based on historical farming practices that if it’s participating in the commodity industry that it’s going to hold less-and-less water each year,” Fox said….