Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has served as a catalyst for unprecedented federal agency coordination to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world.
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America’s Great Lakes — Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario — provide habitat for a variety of fish and other wildlife, and drinking water for more than 40 million people. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partners with several federal agencies, including NRCS, to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and to progress toward achieving long-term restoration goals. Through GLRI, NRCS accelerates conservation efforts on private lands in targeted watersheds throughout the region, working with farmers and landowners to protect surface waters from runoff carrying excess sediment and nutrients, to combat invasive species, and to restore wetlands and other habitat areas.
See the current USDA NRCS GLRI Priority Watersheds maps.
How It Works
GLRI funding is added to the regular funding that NRCS gets each year, for its Farm Bill conservation programs, in order to accelerate Great Lakes protection and restoration. Through Farm Bill conservation programs, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to landowners, enabling them to make conservation improvements to their land. This assistance helps them plan and implement a variety of conservation practices, such as planting cover crops, adopting no-till, removing invasive plants and restoring wetlands.
NRCS, through the GLRI, targets watersheds that are expected to have the greatest impacts on improving water quality. As part of this effort, GLRI Phosphorus Priority Areas were jointly recognized by USDA-NRCS, EPA-Great Lakes National Program Office, U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are nested within larger GLRI Priority Watersheds.
GLRI funds are targeted to these Priority Watersheds to implement avoiding, controlling and trapping practices (e.g. nutrient management, drainage water management, cover crops, waste storage facilities, cover crops and residue) that reduce the amount of nutrient loss from agricultural lands.
- Since 2010 using GLRI funding, NRCS has entered into more than 2,700 conservation contracts with farmers to help them implement conservation practices on more than 613,000 acres improving water quality within the Great Lakes Basin.
- Practices implemented by farmers working in partnership with NRCS through GLRI have reduced phosphorus by over 1.1 million pounds in target areas since 2010.
- More than 8,200 acres of wildlife habitat were protected, restored and/or enhanced by the implementation of conservation practices via GLRI funded projects, located in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
- More than 2,600 acres of aquatic/terrestrial invasive species were controlled by the implementation of conservation practices via GLRI-funded projects, located in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.
Conservation Efforts in the Great Lakes Region
- Lakewide Action Management Plans
- Demonstration Farms
- Linking Soil Health Assessments to Edge of Field Water Quality
- EPA GLRI website
Martin Lowenfish, Areawide Conservation Planning Director
NRCS employs a suite of conservation practices that avoid losses from fields, control the movement of nutrients and water off of fields, and trap sediment and nutrients at the edges of fields, filtering water before it enters into nearby tributaries. The agency primarily utilizes Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to assist farmers in improving water quality by restoring soil health, which reduces soil erosion and nutrient loss, while making agricultural operations more efficient. Additional assistance from Farm Bill conservation programs enable landowners to reduce input costs, employ innovative practices and make operations more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Priority practices installed under GLRI funding include: nutrient management; residue and tillage management; prescribed grazing; cover crops; wetland restoration; early successional habitat development; brush management; and herbaceous weed control.
When Clint Rodabaugh bought additional farmland for his corn and soybean operation in 2017, he knew he needed to implement conservation practices to amend the soil and fight against existing erosion. Rodabaugh worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to create and implement a conservation plan including cover crops, nutrient management and grassed waterways, funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Since putting the conservation plan into action in 2018, Rodabaugh has seen positive results in the land. “The soil is staying on the farm and not going into the ditch,” he said. “By using NRCS resources and technical expertise, I’ve improved both the soil health and water quality in addition to increasing my yields and profits. I’d definitely recommend the GLRI-EQIP program and conservation practices to other producers."
Ready to get started?
Contact your local service center to start your application.
How to Get Assistance
Do you farm or ranch and want to make improvements to the land that you own or lease?
Natural Resources Conservation Service offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.
To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.
NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.
We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you:
- To fill out an AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures that identified wetland areas are protected.
- To meet other eligibility certifications.
Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application, or CPA 1200.
Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.
As part of the application process, we’ll check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring:
- An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID)
- A property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and
- A farm tract number.
If you don’t have a farm tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm tract number if you’re interested in financial assistance.
NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.
If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done.
Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.