USDA announces water quality improvement projects

By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net

On June 19, USDA Secretary Vilsack introduced financial assistance to support 23 new partnership projects in several Mississippi River Basin states. Assistance comes through NRCS’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.

“We are building on our Mississippi River actions from previous years by continuing to target priority conservation practices in priority watersheds to improve water quality in the basin,” Vilsack said. “USDA is committed to working cooperatively with agricultural producers, partner organizations and state and local agencies to improve water quality and the quality of life for the millions of people who live in the Mississippi River Basin.”

This is the third year for this initiative that involves 13 states, including Ohio. So far, 118 projects have been announced for improving the Mississippi River Basin Watersheds with funding totaling $190 million.

“We have four goals,” said NRCS Chief Dave White. “Those goals are to increase water quality, restore wetlands, increase wildlife habitat and maintain agricultural productivity.”

From a water quality standpoint, many of the projects are focused on nutrient management and better use of the 4 R’s — the right time, right place, right amount, and right source.

These 23 new projects will have an impact on the Buckeye State, as well as Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The funding will come from the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, which engages local partners to help provide outreach and technical assistance to agricultural producers. All of the p1articipation in these programs is purely voluntary.

“We are now working in 520 small watersheds throughout 13 states,” White said. “That will have an incredible effect on the water quality going into the Gulf.”

One of the most exciting projects to date, according to White, is a new technology called Liquid Extraction.

“This takes the affluent coming from anaerobic digesters and removes the phosphorous from it,” White said. “So you could actually have phosphorous as a byproduct from the production of energy.”

Projects begin with a combination of science and local knowledge. Another example of a project directed through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative is called ACT, or Avoid, Control and Trap. This project would work with a farmer to avoid mismanagement of nutrients, control those nutrients with conservation tillage or no-till and trap them with wetland restoration, filter strips or cover crops.

The Agriculture Department said landowners interested in the project should contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service or go online to www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov.

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