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News Release

USDA Seeks Project Proposals to Improve Water Quality in Mississippi River Basin

Proposals for New Projects Due Jan. 28, 2011

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Dec. 17, 2010 -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking proposals for new conservation projects that support comprehensive efforts already underway to improve the water quality and overall health of the Mississippi River from North-Central Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

"The Mississippi River is one of America's most valuable water resources," Vilsack said. "Through the cumulative actions of conservation-minded farmers, we can continue to provide our nation with the food, fiber and fuel we rely on, while at the same time ensuring cleaner waters than we've seen in decades."

As part of its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, USDA is providing up to $40 million in financial assistance for new partnership projects in 43 priority watersheds in 13 states. USDA will use a competitive process to distribute the available funding through existing conservation programs such as the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP).

The watersheds in Arkansas are Lake Conway-Point Remove, L’Anguille, Cache, Lower St. Francis, Bayou Macon, Boeuf River and Little River Ditches watersheds.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative was published in the Federal Register Nov. 29. Proposals are due by Jan. 28, 2011. The RFP explains the procedures for potential partners to sign agreements with USDA for projects that meet with the initiative’s objectives.

“This initiative is designed to improve the health of the Mississippi River Basin by working with partners to help producers voluntarily implement conservation practices which can avoid, control, and trap nutrient run off,” said Mike Sullivan, Arkansas state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Six projects were selected in Arkansas in fiscal year 2010. Arkansas NRCS funded 51 contracts on 24,871 acres for more than $5.3 million.”

“This is an excellent opportunity for conservation organizations to develop projects that can be implemented on the watershed level. This partnership approach allows diverse organizations to work together to address water quality issues,” Sullivan said. “The proposals should use a systems approach to achieve conservation goals.”

A systems approach addresses nutrient runoff from multiple perspectives: avoid excess application of nutrients on fields; control the amount of nutrient runoff from fields into the watershed; and trap nutrients before they leave the field.

Through approved projects, eligible farmers and landowners will voluntarily implement conservation practices that avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; restore wetlands; and maintain agricultural productivity.

Key conservation practices include nutrient management, conservation crop rotations and residue and tillage management. Farmers and landowners can also restore wetlands and plant trees along streams to filter nutrients out of water draining off the farm. On a voluntary basis, participants can use financial assistance to install edge-of-field monitoring systems in specific locations within the selected watersheds. This monitoring will allow NRCS to assess environmental outcomes of the project.

Federally recognized Indian tribes, state and local units of governments, farmer cooperatives, producer associations, institutions of higher education and other nongovernmental organizations can download the RFP at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-11-29/html/2010-29958.htm.

USDA uses CCPI to enter into multi-year agreements with eligible partner organizations to address conservation priorities related to agriculture and non-industrial private forest land. CCPI uses the funding and policies from three conservation programs—Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

WREP, administered under the Wetlands Reserve Program, is designed to foster coordination with partners and to encourage non-federal investment in natural resource conservation through the use of matching funds and in-kind services.

Producers interested in participating in conservation programs detailed in approved projects must meet the eligibility and funding requirements for the program or programs for which they are applying.  Eligible partners must submit separate proposals for CCPI and WREP. Higher priority will be given to projects that integrate both CCPI and WREP.

Applicants are encouraged to submit proposals electronically to MRBI-CCPI@wdc.usda.gov for CCPI and MRBI-WREP@wdc.usda.gov for WREP. If submitting a paper proposal, the proposal should be mailed to: Troy Daniell, Initiatives Coordinator, Conservation Initiatives Team, Natural Resources Conservation Service, P.O. Box 2890, Washington, DC 20013, by Jan. 28, 2011.

For more information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including the RFP and the eligible watersheds in Arkansas, visit http://www.ar.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi.html.