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Success Story

South Texas Agricultural Producers Utilize WaterSMART Initiative to Conserve Water and Build Community Drought Resilience

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Water SMART irrigation pipeline 43

The Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation and USDA NRCS partnered to help Rio Grande Valley producers and the public maximize benefits from the coordinated investments of the two agencies through the Water Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow (WaterSMART) Initiative. 

Story by: Melissa Blair, Public Affairs Specialist, Corpus Christi, Texas

Drought, aging infrastructure and environmental concerns can be challenging for South Texas producers who irrigate. To help Rio Grande Valley producers, the Department of Interior (DOI) Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnered to help producers and the public maximize benefits from the coordinated investments of the two agencies through the Water Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow (WaterSMART) Initiative. The collaboration between NRCS and Reclamation is a priority of the National Drought Resilience Partnership. NRCS promoted conservation practices available to landowners to increase irrigation efficiency on their farms. 

NRCS Texas provided more than $2.27 million in WaterSMART funding in Hidalgo and Cameron counties through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to eligible farmers and ranchers to implement conservation improvements on approximately 3,800 acres, from fiscal year (FY) 2020 to 2023. These conservation improvements were enabled by 18 water delivery improvement projects by irrigation districts using grants from Reclamation. Seventy six percent of funded WaterSMART applications were from historically underserved (HU) producers. Their conservation efforts provided environmental benefits for long-term water savings in their local communities.

Watersmart irrigation pipeline 43- take y by Jassiel Vaquez Civil Engineer Web Version

Typical conservation practices that were funded through NRCS’ EQIP WaterSMART Initiative included structure for water control, irrigation land leveling, irrigation pipeline, irrigation system, cover crop, mulching, pasture and hay planting, and prescribed grazing. These practices improve existing irrigation system conditions where irrigation water was poorly managed to systems where available irrigation water is efficiently delivered to on-field application systems and its volume, frequency, and rate is applied to meet critical crop growth needs. 

“Through this initiative NRCS provided eligible EQIP applicants with the additional resources and tools needed to manage soil moisture, improve irrigation water use efficiency in crop and pasture lands, and protect irrigation water sources from depletion,” said Kristy Oates, NRCS Texas state conservationist. “The on-farm technical and financial assistance delivered by NRCS added to the environmental benefits that Reclamation provided the lower Rio Grande River Basin.” 

For more information about conservation technical and financial assistance, contact the NRCS office in Hidalgo or Cameron County. Producers can also apply for NRCS programs, manage conservation plans and contracts, and view and print conservation maps by logging into their account. If you don’t have an account, sign up today.