USDA to expand investment in water conservation, resilience across drought-stricken states
WASHINGTON – On May 18, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest approximately $21 million in additional Farm Bill dollars to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the short and long term effects of drought. These investments will focus financial and technical assistance in the most severely drought-stricken areas in eight states to help crop and livestock producers apply conservation practices that increase irrigation efficiency, improve soil health and productivity, and ensure reliable water sources for livestock operations.
“Since the historic drought of 2012, dry conditions have persisted in many parts of the country, particularly in the West,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Every day, NRCS conservationists work side-by-side with agricultural producers and help them conserve water and increase resilience in their operations. Today’s investment will provide additional resources in drought-stricken areas to help farmers and ranchers implement solutions to mitigate the impacts of sustained drought.”
The announcement expands on the substantial efforts already underway to help producers conserve water, improve soil health and build long term agricultural resilience into their operations. Already this year, NRCS state offices have targeted significant portions of their fiscal year Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) allocations to address water conservation, soil health, and resilience. In California, for example, more than $27 million of fiscal year 2015 EQIP funding is directed towards beneficial drought management practices.
NRCS will provide an additional $21 million in technical and financial assistance through EQIP to target areas that are experiencing either exceptional or extreme drought conditions as of the May 5, 2015 U.S. Drought Monitor, which includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. The EQIP funding will allow NRCS to help producers apply selected conservation practices to better deal with the effects of drought in their operations, including prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, cover crops, nutrient management, irrigation systems, and other water conservation practices. On average, farmers and ranchers contribute half the cost of implementing conservation practices.
Between 2012 and 2014, NRCS invested more than $1.5 billion in financial and technical assistance to help producers implement conservation practices that improve water use efficiency and build long term health of working crop, pasture, and range lands. These practices include building soil health by using cover crops and no-till, which allow the soil to hold water longer and buffer roots from higher temperatures; improving the efficiency of irrigation systems; and implementing prescribed grazing to relieve pressure on stressed vegetation.
NRCS is also leveraging partner investments through the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to put further resources toward projects that foster water conservation and resilience. In the first round of RCPP funding last year, NRCS committed more than $84 million in 35 projects that address water conservation and soil health. These funds will be matched dollar-for-dollar by our partners, resulting in a total investment of nearly $190 million in water conservation and resilience across the country. In May, Vilsack announced a second round of RCPP funding availability that will make up to $235 million available for targeted conservation, highlighting drought and water conservation as a resource concern for potential projects.
Earlier this month, NRCS announced $6.5 million in additional drought-related funding through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative. This investment will support targeted, local efforts to protect the quality and extend the availability of water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies about 225,000 square miles of the Great Plains and supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States.
Through the creation of the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, tribes and local governments to develop a coordinated response to drought.
Producers and landowners are encouraged to visit the NRCS website or stop by their local NRCS office to find out if they are eligible for this new funding.