Texas Gulf of Mexico Initiative Video News release
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.
The Coastal Prairie Region of South Texas is known for its production of cattle, hay, cotton, corn, sorghum, soybeans, and sesame. Recreational opportunities abound in this region with fishing, birding, hunting and nature tourism. The region holds the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which provides vital resting, feeding, wintering, and nesting grounds for migratory and aquatic birds and native Texas wildlife. The refuge and surrounding areas provide winter habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the whooping crane, peregrine falcon, and piping plover. The warm shallow waters of San Antonio Bay provide shrimp, oysters, and crabs for commercial harvest, and excellent fishing for redfish, speckled trout, black drum, and flounder.
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 Texas that run into the confluence of San Antonio River and Guadalupe River are targeted for participation in the new Gulf of Mexico Initiative:
Kuy Creek - Guadalupe River
Guadalupe River - South Guadalupe River
Hynes Bay - San Antonio Bay
The greatest threats to the estuarine ecosystem come from contaminants and loss of habitat. Contamination may come from point sources, such as water treatment plants, or nonpoint sources, such as runoff. Habitat loss can result from alteration of the bay bottom, typically by dredging and trawling, development of wetlands and bay shorelines, and restricting fresh water inflow.
Runoff from cropland, rangeland, and pastureland contributes to sediments affecting the water quality of the three watersheds that run into the confluence of San Antonio River and Guadalupe River. This contributes to the critical health of the San Antonio Bay and estuary system, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The three focus watersheds contain 150,000 acres, which includes 12,300 acres of cropland; 61,000 of rangeland; 8,000 acres of pastureland; 3,100 acres of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge; 64,000 acres of water; and 1,300 acres of urban lands.
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:
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will provide technical assistance to program participants as well as biological and habitat guidance when dealing with federally listed threatened and endangered species and their habitats found within the watersheds.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) will provide technical assistance to program participants as well as biological and habitat recommendations when dealing with state-listed threatened and endangered species and their habitats which are found within the watersheds.
Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program (CBBEP) will assist with monitoring efforts in and around the San Antonio Bay and will consult with Federal, State, and local units of governments in addition to providing educational opportunities for the public and program participants on their efforts, studies, and plans for the Coastal Bend region of Texas.
Texas Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) will assist with providing technical assistance and conservation program information to the landowners and land operators in the affected watersheds, in addition to holding stakeholder meetings and facilitating the implementation of the Upper San Antonio River Watershed Protection Plan.
San Antonio River Authority (SARA) will assist with continued monitoring of the San Antonio River in addition to providing educational and financial assistance to landowners and operators in the upper watershed. They will also hold stakeholder meetings