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USDA awards funds to watersheds

MISSISSIPPI DELTA — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has selected 41 watersheds in 12 states, known as Focus Areas, to participate in a new initiative to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin. The selected watersheds cover over 42 million acres, or more than 5 percent of the Basin’s land area.

In Mississippi, selected watersheds include the Big Sunflower, Deer Creek-Steele Bayou and Upper Yazoo in the Delta.

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), which was announced Sept. 24, 2009, will provide approximately $320 million in USDA financial assistance over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. MRBI will help producers implement conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manages the initiative. NRCS State Conservationists from the 12 watershed states selected the watersheds with guidance from State Technical Committees and state water quality agencies. Selections were based on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients associated with water quality problems in the basin, while maintaining agricultural productivity and benefiting wildlife.

Next, smaller watershed projects will be selected through a competitive process under NRCS’ Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). NRCS assistance will be leveraged with contributions from partners, expanding the capacity available to improve water quality throughout the Basin.

Three requests for project proposals will be announced in the next several weeks, including one for CCPI. Funding for CCPI projects will come from NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

Two other requests for proposals will fund projects through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program and Conservation Innovation Grants.

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