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Press Release

USDA Announces $19.8M Investment in Watershed Infrastructure Projects to Benefit Historically Underserved Communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Receding irrigation pond in the Bordeaux farming community, St. Thomas, March 2022.

New watershed infrastructure projects to benefit rural and historically underserved communities in Puerto Rico's Isabela Irrigation District and St. Thomas, USVI, Bordeaux Farming Community.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 26, 2022 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will invest $420 million in 132 infrastructure projects in 31 states, including a $19.8 million investment in two (2) projects in the Caribbean Area. These projects include rehabilitating dams, flood prevention, and watershed restoration projects, and are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), building on a $166 million nationwide investment announced earlier this year.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure, create good-paying jobs and build new economic opportunity here in the Caribbean Area,” said Luis Cruz-Arroyo, State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Our watershed programs help communities rebuild after natural disasters and prepare for future events. These projects exemplify why this historic investment in our watersheds was needed and the adeptness of our agency to act swiftly.”

The announcement included funding through two programs: the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program for new watershed infrastructure, and the Watershed Rehabilitation Program (REHAB) for upgrades to existing NRCS dams. The two WFPO projects funded for the Caribbean Area are:

  • Irrigation canal in Isabela, PR.
    Isabela Irrigation District: Puerto Rico’s Irrigation Districts (Isabela, Costa Sur and Lajas Valley) were built in the early 1900’s as part of the infrastructure development for the sugar cane industry, and consist of water reservoirs and channels, mains and laterals. This infrastructure is still used and is a key component of the agricultural development of the island; but it is losing water. The local authority and sponsor have targeted the Isabela Irrigation District’s reservoirs as their first priority for repair. The project comprises 377 miles of channels that provide potable and agricultural water. NRCS also seeks to improve water quality and quantity provided by these channels. We will assess the real needs of the area’s agricultural industry to ensure that farmers benefit from irrigation infrastructure improvements. WFPO program funds will be used for a Preliminary Investigation Feasibility Report (PIFR), planning, design and construction for Isabela's irrigation channel repairs and modernization.
  • Bordeaux Farming Community: The Bordeaux Farming Community on St. Thomas requires irrigation water resources to continue and increase their farming operations. St. Thomas rainfall averages around 40 inches/year, which poses a challenge for community agriculture. Interagency support is needed to define solutions and build permanent infrastructure to provide a reliable source of water for the Bordeaux farming community to meet the USVI Agriculture Department’s goal to increase the amount of locally grown food and improve food security. WFPO program funds will be used to conduct a Preliminary Investigation Feasibility Report (PIFR) for irrigation water quality and quantity improvements for Estate Bordeaux, St. Thomas.

NRCS received $918 million of BIL funding to allocate nationwide through its watershed programs. In addition to WFPO and REHAB, this includes funds for Emergency Watershed Program (EWP) to help communities recover from natural disasters. A full list of projects is available on NRCS’ Bipartisan Infrastructure Law webpage.

How Communities Can Get Help

NRCS encourages communities to engage with their local project sponsors, participate in developing a sound conservation plan that serves to protect and preserve local watersheds, and connect with their local NRCS office to learn more about Watershed Program assistance.

More Information

Since 1948, NRCS’ watershed programs have designed and built 11,850 dams, constructed water storage structures, flood management systems, stabilized streambanks, relocated residences, redirected stream flows, re-established wildlife habitat and more to save lives and protect watersheds.

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