Champaign, IL, June 27 2018 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to extend two of its landmark water quality initiatives for five years. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) and the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) have played a pivotal role in accelerating conservation in water quality by providing targeted funding and technical resources to agricultural producers in the areas that need it most.
In Illinois, MRBI and NWQI have focused conservation in eight watersheds. “NRCS targeted water quality efforts have steadily demonstrated tremendous benefits in Illinois and across America’s landscape and water bodies,” said Ivan Dozier, state conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “By focusing resources where we can have the best impacts, we’re improving the quality of rivers and streams across the country while also giving producers the tools they need to make good investments on their working lands.”
NRCS works with producers in targeted watersheds to implement conservation practices that prevent runoff of sediment and nutrients, which can degrade water quality. In Illinois, the following watersheds are those in need of conservation solutions. MRBI watersheds: Clinton Lake, Crow-Clear Creek, Upper Macoupin Creek, and Vermilion Headwaters. NWQI watersheds: Crooked Creek, Douglas Creek, Lake Bloomington, and Lake Vermilion. These initiatives currently help producers improve water quality in more than 350 watersheds across the country. To date, at least 10 water bodies have been removed or scheduled for removal from the nation’s list of impaired streams.
NRCS will continue to update and expand their approach to both initiatives based on recommendations from conservation partners and staff. Some notable updates include:
Providing greater technical assistance for watershed assessment in MRBI to help ensure critical source areas are identified;
Establishing watershed goals and interim metrics; and
Ensuring that an outreach strategy is in place.
NRCS will also provide greater certainty for NWQI financial assistance by using multi-year budgets, not to exceed five years, for priority watersheds. The initiative will also expand the focus from only water bodies impaired under the Clean Water Act to a broader group of water bodies, particularly those that provide drinking water.
Improved water quality is due, in large part, to the agency’s targeted small watershed approach, which focuses resources on the most critical areas to maximize conservation impact and allow producers to be natural resource stewards.
Through USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project, cropland models demonstrate that conservation on cropland throughout the entire Mississippi River basin has reduced nitrogen and sediment loading to the Gulf of Mexico by 28 percent and 45 percent, respectively, over what would be lost without conservation systems in place.