Skip Navigation

News Release

USDA to Help Clean Waterways in Mississippi River Basin

Wisconsin and 12 Others to Receive Funding

Contact Matt Otto, Resource Conservationist
608-662-4422 x245,

Madison, Wis. – April 7, 2015 – Targeted conservation work in the Mississippi River Basin will unite the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers and local organizations to help clean waterways that flow into the nation’s largest river. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing $10 million this year in 27 new high-priority watersheds and 13 existing projects that will help improve water quality and strengthen agricultural operations. This investment is part of a commitment of $100 million over four years to address critical water quality concerns in priority watersheds while boosting rural economies.

“We know that when we target our efforts to the places most in need, we see stronger results,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “These projects focus on watersheds in need, where we have opportunities to work with partners and farmers to get conservation work on the ground. “

NRCS worked with state agencies, farmers and other partners to identify high-priority watersheds that align with established state priorities and have strong partnerships in place — and where targeted conservation on agricultural land can make the most gains in improving local and regional water quality. Conservation systems implemented in these areas will reduce the amount of nutrients flowing from agricultural land into waterways, curb erosion and improve the resiliency of working lands in the face of droughts and floods. This investment builds on $18.5 million already allocated to projects in the basin in fiscal 2015.

These projects, including two in Wisconsin, are funded through the agency’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), which uses funding from several Farm Bill conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), to help farmers adopt conservation systems to improve water quality and habitat and restore wetlands. Since MRBI’s start in 2009, NRCS has worked with more than 600 partners and 5,000 private landowners to improve more than 1 million acres in the region. Through these partnerships, the initiative more than quadrupled the number of contracts addressing water quality concerns in targeted project areas.

In Wisconsin, NRCS will be working with partners, particularly land conservation departments, in Pierce County’s Rush River Watershed, a new project; and in the existing Dane County Adaptive Management Project, which covers the 6-Mile Creek Watershed.

See full list of projects.

 “Putting NRCS conservation practices on the ground helps clean and conserve water, makes agricultural operations more productive and resilient, and stimulates rural economies by tapping into help from biologists, foresters, grading contractors, welders, engineers and many more professions during the implementation process,” said Jimmy Bramblett, State Conservationist in Wisconsin.

Conservation systems include practices that promote soil health, reduce erosion and lessen nutrient runoff, such as cover crops, reduced tillage and nutrient management; waste management systems that treat agricultural waste and livestock manure; irrigation systems that capture and recycle nutrients back to the field; and wetland restoration that increases wildlife habitat, mitigates flooding, and improves water quality.

Findings from a 2014 report by the USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) show that conservation work on cropland in the Mississippi River Basin has reduced the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing to the Gulf of Mexico by 18 and 20 percent, respectively. CEAP models have also shown that the targeted approach of MRBI has enhanced the per-acre conservation benefit by 70 percent for sediment losses, 30 percent by nitrogen losses, and 40 percent for phosphorus losses, when compared to general program activities.

Meanwhile, watersheds prioritized by MRBI have shown clear successes in helping to improve water quality. For example, two stream segments in the St. Francis River watershed in Arkansas have been ­removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of impaired streams.

MRBI is one of many landscape-level efforts to address water quality; similar efforts are ongoing in the Great Lakes region, Gulf of Mexico region, Chesapeake Bay watershed and California Bay Delta region.

To schedule a visit with your local NRCS professional, a complete listing of our offices can be found at: or contact the NRCS Office at your local USDA Service Center.

Helping People Help the Land.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).