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USDA stretches its investment in water conservation

The Natural Resources Conservation Service will make $21 million available in Farm Bill dollars to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the effects of drought.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will make $21 million available in Farm Bill dollars to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the effects of drought, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Monday.

The investment “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,” the press release says.

NRCS state offices also targeted significant portions of their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) allocations for water conservation and soil health. More $27 million of 2015’s EQIP funding is directed towards beneficial drought management practices in California.

The extra funding comes after the 5 May US Drought Monitor report which shows parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Utah are still experiencing either exceptional or extreme drought conditions.

Just last week, USDA announced that the department will invest $6.5 million in the huge Ogallala Aquifer, which has long been the main water supply for the high plains region of the US, covering parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. The funding aims to help conserve billions of gallons of water and improve water quality.

“This investment will help protect and improve Ogallala Aquifer water quality while also helping farmers and ranchers find additional methods to reduce water usage without impacting production,” Senator Jerry Moran said in a statement.

NRCS invested more than $1.5 billion in water-related projects from 2012 to 2014, and it is leveraging partner investments through the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to put further investment in water conservation and resilience. RCPP is a conservation tool created by the 2014 Farm Bill as part of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Earlier this month, USDA made $235 million available to the nation’s water conservation practices.