The Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI) is designed to help producers in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas improve water quality and ensure sustainable production of food and fiber. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is launching an innovative water and wildlife conservation effort along the Gulf Coast of the United States, which will deliver up to $50 million in financial and easement assistance over 3 years in 16 priority watersheds. This infusion of conservation funds represents an 11-fold increase in conservation assistance in these priority areas.
Assistance will help producers apply sustainable agricultural and wildlife habitat management systems that maintain agricultural productivity; avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff; and reduce sediment transport. GoMI also will reduce current over-use of water resources and prevent saltwater from entering the habitats of many threatened and endangered species. NRCS programs supporting GoMI are the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.
South Louisiana is known throughout the United States for its abundant production of seafood along the Gulf Coast. This area contains some of the most productive fisheries in the United States. It is also known for its ability to produce rice, sugarcane, and productive grazing lands because of its mild winters and fertile soils. The Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI) is designed to help producers voluntarily implement a combination of core and supporting practices that: reduce the amount of agricultural related nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment leaving the field; reduce agricultural impacts on water quantity; and enhance or maintain wildlife habitat. Three priority watersheds in Louisiana are targeted for participation in the new Gulf of Mexico Initiative:
Bayou Corne-Grand Bayou Watershed and Bayou St. Vincent-Little Grand Bayou Watershed, both in the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary
Bayou Grand Marais Watershed in the Mermentau River Basin
Gulf of Mexico Initiative Core & Supporting Conservation Practices
Bayou Corne-Grand Bayou and Bayou St. Vincent-Little Grand Bayou Watersheds are located within the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary. This is one of the most fragile estuaries in the country. The overall health of the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary is declining for several reasons, many of which are inter-related; they include: hydrologic modification, sediment reduction, habitat loss, eutrophication, pathogens, toxic substances, and changes in living resources. These problems originate from many sources including point and non-point sources, buildinglevees, channelization, and runoff from urban, suburban, and agricultural areas.
The major land use within the focus area is agriculture, with Assumption Parish being one of the top sugarcane producing parishes in the state. The two watersheds consist of 23,226 acres of cropland, 46,167 acres of bottomland hardwood forest, 331 acres of pasture, and 1,870 acres of urban land.
Runoff from working lands in south Louisiana contributes to water quality concerns in the watersheds, basins, and the Gulf of Mexico. Sheet and rill erosion deposits excessive sediment in waterways, resulting in increased turbidity, phosphorus loading, and eventually eutrophication. Excess sediment in surface water also degrades animal and plant life populations and diversity by changing the depth and turbidity of the water ultimately impacting fragile coastal estuaries.
Bayou Grand Marais
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Bayou Grand Marais Watershed is located in the north-central portion of Vermilion Parish. A majority of the land use in the watershed is irrigated cropland, predominately rice grown in rotation with crawfish production. Other crops grown in the watershed include soybeans and sugarcane, which are typically not irrigated. Livestock production comprises approximately 10 percent of the area. The watershed consists of 30,975 acres of cropland; 3,777 acres of pasture; 1,332 acres of forestland; and 1,133 acres of urban land.
Ecosystem health is threatened by erosion, pollutants, and high nutrient loads from urban and agricultural sources. Runoff from rice fields, sugarcane, and pasturelands adds nutrient-rich sediments to surface water, affecting water quality of the watersheds, basins, and the Gulf of Mexico. Sheet and rill erosion from agricultural sources deposits excessive sediment in waterways, resulting in increased turbidity, phosphorus loading, and, eventually, eutrophication. Excess sediment in surface water also degrades animal and plant life populations and diversity by changing the depth and turbidity of the water, ultimately impacting fragile coastal estuaries.
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, one of the worst man-made environmental disasters our country has ever experienced, the President directed his administration to establish the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, a joint federal-state body. The members of the Task Force were directed by the President to prepare an ecosystem strategy. This strategy is to be the first effort of its kind to be developed with the involvement of parties throughout the region, including the states, tribes, federal agencies, local governments and thousands of interested citizens and organizations.
The strategy will respond to the long-standing decline of the Gulf region’s ecosystem. These natural resources are vital in that they support much of the economic wellbeing of the area – like tourism and recreation, energy production, and fishing and seafood sales. The strategy addresses several key areas of concern, among them stopping the loss of critical wetlands like sand barriers and beaches, reducing the flow of nutrients into Gulf waters, and enhancing the resiliency of coastal communities.
For the last year, the Task Force has listened to the people of the Gulf during more than 40 public meetings and has heard concerns and ideas for moving forward from fisherman, environmental experts, scientists, local officials, concerned citizens and business owners.
On December 5, 2011, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson – as the chair of the Task Force – announced the release of the final restoration strategy. As part of this event, Administrator Jackson and USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman are announcing a new regional conservation initiative developed by NRCS and highlighting the project as the primary example of how the administration will immediately begin implementing the strategy’s recommendations.
After the President’s call for action, NRCS and its partners developed a new regional, multi-year conservation effort to better target and leverage conservation assistance to improve the health of the waters and wildlife in the Gulf. NRCS’s new Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI) will deliver focused water quality, wetland restoration, and wildlife habitat improvement projects in the five Gulf states. The GoMI will target conservation in seven major river basins in the five Gulf of Mexico states – Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Within these river basins, NRCS and its partners are focusing on priority “hot spots” where we believe these investments will have the biggest impact on water quality and wildlife habitat.
For the overall effort, NRCS will partner with a broad array of local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as private agricultural and conservation organizations, to deliver this effort. Partners include:
The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) is a partnership between Federal and State agencies, business and industry, environmental groups and scientists, and fisherman and farmers.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Office of Soil and Water Conservation (LDAF/OSWC) will provide technical assistance to program participants with our OSWC field staff and local Soil and Water Conservation District technicians.
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will continue to monitor water courses in the project area for nutrients, suspended sediments and pathogens.
The Vermilion and the Lower Delta Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service will hold producer meetings to promote wider adoption of precision agriculture, field borders and alternative methods to handling sugarcane crop residue.