Great Lakes water quality efforts get more federal funding from USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will receive more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In addition, these projects will leverage an estimated $400 million more in partner contributions—for a total of nearly $800 million—to improve the nation’s water quality, support wildlife habitat and enhance the environment.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation efforts,” said Tom Vilsack USDA Secretary. “These partnerships empower communities to set priorities and lead the way on conservation efforts important for their region. They also encourage private sector investment so we can make an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. We’re giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in a new era in conservation that ultimately benefits us all. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism, outdoor recreation, and other industries.”

For Ohio, this means more than $19 million in new federal funds to improve water quality in Western Lake Erie Basin. In total, Ohio conservation projects will be awarded more than $27 million under the RCPP.

“These Federal resources will help reduce harmful algal blooms and ensure the safety of Ohio’s drinking water and the strength of our economy,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown. “But these federal funds are just the beginning — we need to utilize every available resource and innovation to reduce runoff, preserve the local environment, and protect our water supply.

The Tri-State Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorus Reduction Initiative will receive $17.5 million in funding to help farmers implement conservation practices that reduce the flow of phosphorus, which contribute to harmful algal blooms that comprise water quality. The funds will help farmers enroll in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides resources for producers to implement conservation practices to ensure and preserve water quality. From his seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Brown urged USDA to approve this application, which was submitted by Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.

Additionally, the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District and the Clermont Soil and Water Conservation Districts will receive $1 million and $600,000, respectively for EQIP efforts. Ohio will also receive a share of $8 million — split among Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Maryland — in funding to preserve the habitat of the Cerulean Warbler, which is native to Appalachia.

RCPP competitively awards funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year Farm Bill program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

In addition to supporting local conservation goals, clean land and water investments create jobs in local communities.

A complete list of the projects and their descriptions is available on the NRCS website. New RCPP projects throughout the country will support a wide array of agricultural and natural resource activities, from helping farmers improve their drought resiliency to protecting drinking water supplies. They are also providing habitat for many at-risk species such as sage grouse and supporting the expansion of environmental markets. All of these investments will benefit ranching and farming operations that will in turn help address natural resource needs.

More than 600 pre-proposals were submitted for RCPP in 2014.

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