NRCS and partners invest in conservation for Mississippi River health
WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2013 – The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is investing $58 million this year in the health of the Mississippi River basin, making a total of about $288 for the initiative to reduce nutrient and sediment run-off.
More than 640 small watersheds are part of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which is in its fourth year, said Tom Christensen, the central regional conservationist who leads the program across the 13 states involved.
Through the cooperative conservation partnerships, NRCS works with hundreds of local organizations and conservation experts to focus the funds to help the greater efforts of USDA and other federal agencies improve water quality in the river.
Previous conservation on cropland in the upper river basin reduced edge-of-water sediment losses by about 61 percent, nitrogen by 20 and phosphorus by 44, according to NRCS’ conservation effects assessment project, showing how effective conservation is for the basin’s health.
“We achieved a partnership approach to targeting the resources to the most vulnerable acres in the watershed,” said Christensen. “Those are the acres with the most sediment and nutrient losses.”
Producers and landowners work with NRCS to begin voluntary conservation practices to improve water quality, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat and sustain agricultural profitability in the basin.
In addition to its vital role in providing drinking water, food, industry and recreation for millions of people, NRCS has identified the basin as a top priority due to water quality concerns, primarily related to the effects of nutrient loading on the health of local water bodies and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.
“We work within the context of the individual producer’s operation,” said Christensen. “We make sure the conservation solutions are practical, economical and sustainable over time.”
Although working with individuals, the program ensures the focus is not too narrow and employs this type “systems approach” to nutrient and sediment reduction, he said.
Ensuring the program will continue to be feasible for the landowners is the key, said Christensen.
“Sustaining the conservation system over time is where we’ll yield the biggest benefits,” he added.
The program is also being evaluated this year to ensure it continues to focus on the best targeted efforts.
“Rural America faces a variety of challenges, and the Mississippi River basin is an example of how conservation in small watersheds can help improve a much larger system,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This initiative continues to build on the success of our producers, partners, and other state and federal agencies whose combined efforts have seen a tremendous amount of growth and improvements for wildlife and agricultural production. These efforts offer conservation solutions that are practical, economical and sustainable.”
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.
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