USDA to invest $235m in water conservation

The USDA will invest the capital into water conservation partnerships that aim to solve regional water issues.

Amid a severe water shortage in California, the US Department of Agriculture has made $235 million available to improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, improve soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.

Funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a conservation tool that was created by the 2014 Farm Bill as part of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the initiative aims to promote partnerships with local stakeholders, such as private companies, local and tribal governments, universities and non-profit groups, along with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, to design water conservation solutions that work best for their region.

Some 40 percent of the fund will be allocated to multi-state or national level projects, 35 percent for critical conservation areas including California and the remaining 25 percent for state-level projects, according to a RCPP fact sheet.

The new initiative will build on existing conservation projects through RCPP, which already has over 500,000 producers participating to protect land and water on over 400 million acres nationwide.

“We had tremendous interest from local partners when we first launched this programme last year. In this new round of applications, we’ll be looking for even greater emphasis on expanding partnerships that break down barriers, work across boundaries, leverage resources and create new opportunities for innovation,” Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, said in a statement.

The newly-announced water conservation fund is currently accepting partnership proposals and pre-proposals are due early July. Criteria for selection include: projects covering multiple states; containing significant agricultural production; are covered by an existing plan adopted by a Federal, State, or regional authority; would benefit from water quality or water quantity improvements; and contain producers that may need assistance in meeting or avoiding a natural resource regulation, according to the RCPP website.

Water has historically been a big focus for the USDA. In April, the Department awarded 21 grants totalling more than $10 million to universities to support solutions to critical water problems in rural and agricultural watersheds in the US. In February, USDA launched $160 million fund for agri research and education, of which about $9 million will be available for water projects.

“These public-private partnerships can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism, and other industries,” Vilsack said in a statement.