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News Release

2012 Mississippi River Basin meeting

USDA and NRCS Participate in Meeting and Tour in Memphis, TN and Clarksdale, MS to Address Strategies to Protect Natural Resources in the Mississippi River Basin

Little Rock, AR — The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force will host a meeting April 10 beginning at 8:30 a.m., at the Holiday Inn Select, 160 Union Ave., in Memphis, TN.  Federal and state officials from Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., will meet to discuss national and local strategies to address nutrient pollution and water quality in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.  The Task Force was established in 1997 to reduce and control hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.  Since then, the Task Force has undertaken a variety of efforts to achieve these goals.

Featured panelists and guest speakers at the meeting include Ann Mills, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Tom Christensen, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservationist, and Jane Hardisty, NRCS Indiana State Conservationist. 

On April 11, beginning at 12:15 p.m., officials and farmers will tour Stovall Farms in Clarksdale, MS, and a portion of the Harris Bayou, to see projects that are reducing water and nutrient pollution in the Mississippi Delta.  Stovall Farms is located at 4146 Stovall Road in Clarksdale.  During the tour, local farmers and experts will discuss critical environmental issues for the region and various strategies being employed to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous reaching local waterways and the Mississippi Delta.

The Mississippi River is the largest river in North America, flowing over 2,300 miles through the heartland of America to the Gulf of Mexico.  The watershed provides drinking water, food, industry and recreation for millions of people and is a significant migratory bird flyway. The basin also houses some of our nation’s most productive agricultural land.

For some time, sediments and nutrient loading have contributed to water quality problems throughout the river basin.  NRCS initiated the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) in September 2009 to work with conservation partners and build on the past efforts of agricultural producers in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin to manage nutrients and improve water quality.

Through this Initiative, NRCS and our partners are helping producers in selected watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin voluntarily implement conservation practices and systems that avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; and balance critical conservation work with productive agricultural operations.

NRCS is working with eligible agriculture producers using a conservation systems approach to manage and optimize nitrogen and phosphorus within fields to minimize runoff and reduce downstream nutrient loading.

Through such Farm Bill conservation programs as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), NRCS offers a suite of conservation practices promoting water quality, wetland restoration and wildlife habitat while maintaining agricultural productivity.

  • ARKANSAS:  In Arkansas, NRCS is working with conservation partners to accelerate conservation treatment to improve water quality, maintain productivity and enhance wildlife habitat in the Mississippi River Basin. Through 11 MRBI projects, NRCS is providing technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to implement conservation practices that avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land; and restore and protect wetlands.  The 11 funded project areas encompass 2,082,018 acres.  In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, NRCS Arkansas obligated more than $15 million through MRBI to install tailwater recovery systems, nutrient management practices, monitoring facilities and other conservation practices designed to improve water quality and quantity. Additionally, NRCS is working cooperatively with the Nature Conservancy to create and restore wetlands through MRBI.  The Lower Cache River watershed has been targeted to receive almost $16 million to create and restore wetlands adjacent to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. 
     
  • KENTUCKY:  Through MRBI and the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), impacts in Kentucky are being made that improve water quality for the Gulf.  Conservation efforts are underway along the Obion Creek, Mayfield Creek and Bayou de Chien watersheds in Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle, Ballard, and Graves counties in Kentucky.  Through MRBI-WREP, NRCS is working with landowners to implement wetland restoration practices that manage and optimize nitrogen and phosphorus in wetlands resulting in less runoff and nutrient loading.  The conservation practices installed promote water quality, restore wetlands and create wildlife habitat which also serves as a natural filter for surface and ground water by trapping sediments that would otherwise pollute waters downstream.  Landowners who have poorly drained cropland or frequently flooded land are now able to be compensated for challenging farmland and, in turn, do wonders for wildlife and the environment.
     
  • MISSISSIPPI:  NRCS is working with Mississippi farmers to keep fertilizers and sediment from washing off fields as well as to conserve the use of water.  The agency works with farmers to implement a tailwater recovery system, which uses a network of pipes, ditches and a reservoir to recycle water.  This prevents water that could carry fertilizers and other pollutants from leaving farms and allows water to be reused for irrigation.  Tailwater recovery systems and other conservation practices are a win-win in the Mississippi Delta because it results in a cleaner Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, and provides an alternate water source in a place where water quantity is a top concern.  In fiscal year 2011, NRCS allocated $12 million in financial assistance through EQIP to farmers in the Mississippi Delta to address nutrient reduction.
     
  • MISSOURI:  Eighteen Missouri watersheds were selected to participate in MRBI.  Landowners in these watersheds have four years of access to targeted financial assistance from the date initiated.  Working with each separate Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) sponsor, Missouri NRCS obligated more than $8.1 million in 277 EQIP, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts to help producers implement specific conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from 30,598 acres of agricultural land.
     
  • TENNESSEE:  NRCS is working with Tennessee farmers to install conservation practices that improve and protect water quality by reducing sediment and nutrient pollution entering streams.  Tennessee farmers will plan and/or apply a total of 357.95 acres of Riparian Forest Buffers through EQIP in fiscal year 2012.  This is more than double the number of acres (164.2) that were planned and/or applied for all previous fiscal years since the 1996 Farm Bill (1996-2011).  The installation of Riparian Forest Buffers will have multiple benefits in addressing resource concerns related to water quality, fish and wildlife, soil erosion, soil condition, plant condition and air quality.  The water quality benefits are especially important in treating hypoxia.

NRCS will continue offering MRBI through fiscal year 2013, dedicating at least $80 million in financial assistance each fiscal year.  This is in addition to funding by other Federal agencies, States, and partners and the contributions of producers.  The $80 million is in addition to regular NRCS program funding in the 13 Initiative states, and will be supported with needed technical assistance.  NRCS will provide financial assistance in priority small watersheds using the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) and WREP.

CCPI funding is administered through the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. WREP is a component of the Wetlands Reserve Program.

A listing of the projects by state, and additional information about the MRBI, are available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs.

More information about the Spring 2012 Task Force Public Meeting is available at:  http://www.tetratech-ffx.com/tfmeeting/spring2012_pub/

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  All media are invited to attend the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force meeting April 10 and 11, beginning at 8:30 a.m., at the Holiday Inn Select, 160 Union Ave., in Memphis, TN, and farm tour on April 11, beginning at 12:15 p.m., at Stovall Farms, 4146 Stovall Road, in Clarksdale, MS.  Featured panelists, guest speakers and officials and will be available for interviews following each session.  Contact Reginald Jackson at 501-352-7761, or Jeannine May at 601-260-0298, for additional information.)