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Arkansas FY 2011 MRBI Annual Report

Arkansas FY 2011 Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative Annual Report

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative (MRBI) in Arkansas has driven tremendous improvements in achieving conservation during Fiscal Year 2011.  Concentrated efforts and dedicated funding for water quality resource concerns in the 11 Arkansas MRBI project areas have produced a high impact for conservation in the state.  These conservation efforts by partners and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have increased the exposure of programs in all of the affected focus watersheds.  We have had an excellent year in outreach, conservation planning, and program participation for the initiative.

Outreach:

Implementation of the outreach plans for the 11 Arkansas projects has heightened the awareness of resource concerns and the need to address those concerns through different programs and practices offered through MRBI.   By having such a successful outreach program, producers and landowners are better informed about the programs and program eligibility.  Conservation partners have made great efforts to reach out to all individuals through traditional means of one-on-one contacts, informational newsletters, and outreach meetings as well as the use of social media such as Facebook and other web sites.   The partners and NRCS held group meetings to encourage limited resource farmer participation and in designated Strike Force Counties to strengthen the understanding of programs and the application process.  This effort helped directly reach at least 500 landowners throughout the 11 MRBI project areas (it is unknown how many were reached through social media). 

There were several outreach activities that were quite effective.  For example, the Lower St. Francis River Nutrient Loss Reduction sponsors held a community meeting on July 7, 2011, to inform landowners of the specifics of the MRBI program.  Woody Ray, Project Director, planned the meeting so that NRCS staff was on hand to answer questions about the program.  Applications were available for landowners to sign up for the program at the meeting due to the limited amount of time before the signup deadline of July 15, 2011. The meeting was well attended; and because questions were answered on the spot, 46 applications were received in eight days and 17 applicants received funding. 

Conservation Planning:

The goal for MRBI in Arkansas is to reduce the nutrient loss from agricultural lands in all the watersheds under this initiative by improving nutrient use efficiency and reducing runoff.  Conservation efforts by partners and NRCS have resulted in 210 conservation plans and program contracts in the original five project areas selected in 2010.  These plans and contracts cover 59,084.30 acres that will receive conservation treatment for each MRBI project area to adequately protect the resource concerns.

 Through the 2011 projects, 52 contracts were awarded to conserve resources on 15,966.50 acres.  Our District Conservationists and conservation partners have stepped up to the challenge and, with cooperation from all entities, Arkansas has a participation level of 262 contracts to enhance and provide protection for water quality on 75,050.80 acres.  This would not have been achievable without the use of EQIP, WHIP, WREP, and CSP funding of $7,298,786 through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative during the fiscal year.

Our landowners adopted 37 practices out of the 75 available practices for avoiding, controlling, and trapping nitrogen and phosphorus.  The adoption of core avoiding practices is increasing as demonstrated by 47,577 acres of nutrient management being planned along with 9,745.4 acres of cover crops and 4,836.4 acres in conservation crop rotation.  Mulch till in the amount of 6,688.5 acres is leading over no-till in the project areas.  Water quality will be greatly affected with 20,769.8 acres currently under a conservation plan utilizing the supporting practice of waste transfer.  We have made great strides in conservation with our partner’s contributions and assistance.

Table 1.  Planned Core Practices – Avoiding
Practice Name Acres
328-Conservation Crop Rotation 4,836.40
340-Cover Crop  9,745.40
528-Prescribed Grazing 3,066.10
590-Nutrient Management 47,577.00
 633-Waste Utilization 2,832.40

WREP Implementation:

Arkansas has a Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) in the lower Cash River watershed (03020802) sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.  In FY 10 and FY11 combined, offers to purchase conservation easements on 13 parcels of land totaling 4,200 acres were made. A total of $5,188,743 has been obligated to purchasing easements, surveying and closing cost, and restoration of the land enrolled.   Currently, two easements totaling 1,256 acres have been purchased; an estimated 1000 acres will be restored this calendar year.  Additionally, this past year NRCS entered into a contribution agreement with TNC for TNC to provide assistance with easement surveying and closing.

The following table displays easement acres that are specific to each 12 digit HUC watershed.  The three priority 12-digit HUCs for the project area are designated with an asterisk in the table.  Approximately 1,643.5 acres are in the priority watershed areas as outlined in the WREP project.  Acres used are based on surveys, deeds, and computer generated maps.  Acreages may vary when land boundary surveys are completed by all landowners.

Table 2. WREP acres in easements by 12 Digit HUCs
HUCs Acres
110100130603 201.6
080203020802 46.0
080203020803 200.0

080203020705

35.0
*080203020806 541.4

080203030505

3.3
080203020808 156.0
080203010506 156.0
080203020703 32.5
080203020701  219.1
*080203020807 1010.9
080203020708 316.8
080203010505 559.0
*080203020805 91.2
080203020707 497.9
080203020702 107.6
Total Acres 4,200

*Denotes the three priority watersheds for the project.

Conservation Implementation:   

2010 MRBI Project areas are making progress in the areas of applied practices.  Although practices applied were hindered by extreme flooding this year, we were able to make good progress toward our conservation goals for the initiative.  In the following table are just some of the achievements obtained by our district conservationist and landowners.

Table 3.  Applied Practices
Practice Name Amount
590-Nutrient Management 500 acres
633-Waste Utilization 2,303 acres
634-Waste Transfer 1,232 acres
554-Drainage Water Management  399.9 acres
382-Fence 14,585 ft.
340-Cover Crop 2,652.4 acres
345-Residue Management 1,345.3 acres
511-Forage Harvest Management  730.3 acres
430-Irrigation Pipeline  17,638 ft.

Water quality is addressed by implementing structural practices along with other conservation practices.  Supporting controlling practices of grade stabilization structures, irrigation water conveyance pipeline, tail water recovery systems, and irrigation water management are just a few that landowners are contracted to install.

Water quality monitoring is a viable component of the MRBI to assess the Best Management Practices.  Our water quality monitoring partners have moved forward and are currently taking samples in the project areas and on the Discovery Farms.  The partnership is growing to include eRam monitoring through Colorado State University as well as working with the University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas - Pine Bluff, and Arkansas State University.   Monitoring stations are installed, water quality sampling is beginning, and partners are keeping us informed of the progress.  Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and US Geological Survey (USGS) are contributing to data collection for the three-tiered monitoring of the project areas.  

SWAT additions to the initiative: 

The SWAT Initiative became an integral part of the MRBI program in 2011.  By entering into contribution agreements with our conservation partners, we were able to put more boots on the ground for conservation.  NRCS partnered with Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) to add six technicians in the MRBI project areas to help carry out the initiatives.  Two Soil Conservation Districts also entered into a contribution agreement for one technician and a part- time engineer.  This provided 22 staff years for a total of 7.5 people to help with the heavier work load created by the initiative and to get the conservation message out.

Conservation Roadblocks/Opportunities:

In the spring of 2011, Arkansas experienced historically record flooding that had an impact on implementing plans and the decision making process for landowners.  As the initiatives continue and added support is given, we expect to experience an increase in conservation in these areas.   

Added Resource Concerns:

Arkansas not only has water quality concerns, we also have water quantity issues that need to be addressed for our future generations.  The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission has designated a significant area that is defined as a critical ground water decline area due to aquifer overdraft.  They have historical data to validate this area.  We have a high emphasis on supporting conservation measures that decrease the use of ground water and increase the use of surface water.  Landowners and Conservation Districts have recognized the need for irrigation conservation and have partnered with NRCS, USACE, ANRC and others through the years to form Irrigation Districts that have developed projects for preventing the collapse of the affected aquifer. 

Arkansas NRCS has proposed MRBI focus areas in order to enhance the ongoing state efforts for this resource concern.

Initiative Management:

Arkansas cooperated with Louisiana in the two shared initiative projects to foster equity across state lines for landowners in practices offered, payment schedules, and common ranking questions.  Both states sat down together to work out differences and reached common ground to offer guidance for field service staff to administer the program with continuity.  The result consisted of fair and equitable solutions that satisfied both states resource concerns and program policy.

Arkansas has added new Initiative Coordinator on staff to help coordinate and administer the Initiatives under direct supervision of the State Resource Conservationist.  The position will serve to provide information to partners, field service centers, and the Regional Initiative Coordinator.  The coordinator will also aid in the training of SWAT employees through conservation partners.

Contacts

Nancy Young
State Resource Conservationist
(501) 301-3134

Kenneth Lee
Assistant Conservationist for Programs
(501) 301-3165

Dianne Schlenker
Initiatives Coordinator
(501) 301-3152