USDA recently announced that 88 high-impact projects across the country will receive $225 million in federal funding as part of USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
Several of those projects are located in the Upper Midwest and will see more than $12 million from USDA.
RCPP offers new opportunities for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, conservation partners and agricultural producers to work together to harness innovation; expand the conservation mission; and demonstrate the value and efficacy of voluntary, private lands conservation. The program is increasing investment in conservation from diverse partners, leading to cleaner and more abundant water, improved soil and air quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, and stronger rural economies.
Water quality and drought are dominant themes in this year's RCPP project list, with 46 of the 88 projects focusing on water resource concerns. More than a quarter of the projects are focused on improving fish and wildlife habitat.
In Iowa, NRCS is investing $900,000 in the Fox River Water Quality Project, one of the longest-running watershed projects in Iowa. The river has been on Iowa's and Missouri's impaired waters list for many years. Now in its 18th year, the project is committed to continued conservation efforts to improve the health of the Fox River by addressing water quality, conservation, protection and development of natural resources using voluntary programs — while providing economic opportunity. Eight partners, led by the Davis County Soil and Water Conservation District, will help producers improve water quality through conservation practices like installing grade stabilization structures, water and sediment control basins, tile outlet terraces and cover crops.
Here are some of the other states and their projects:
Lafayette County Agricultural Enterprise Area Water Quality Project: proposed NRCS investment of $600,000. Lead partner is the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Within the Pecatonica River watershed, there are many waterways identified on the federal 303(d) list of impaired waters, and sections of the watershed that have been identified as priority areas for phosphorus and nitrogen reduction. The county project aims to mobilize an existing informal network of landowners to address these water quality concerns through the widespread adoption and installation of conservation practices. Ten partners have committed to pooling their resources, more than doubling federal investment, to support and advance landowner efforts to reduce runoff of excess nutrients and sediment from agricultural land. This collaborative effort to increase conservation work on ag land will address soil health and water quality while ensuring continued agricultural viability for future generations of farmers.
Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape: proposed NRCS investment of $2,873,880. Lead partner is the Morrison Soil and Water Conservation District. The Camp Ripley Sentinel Landscape (CRSL) includes high-quality water features, including 40 miles of the first 400 miles of the Mississippi River and four tributaries; two ecological zones; and thousands of acres of public and private lands. This landscape is in one of Minnesota’s most important sources of drinking water protection areas — 1.2 million people between Camp Ripley and the Twin Cities rely on the Mississippi for drinking water. The 34 minor watersheds within the CRSL are not confined to political boundaries. Hence, efforts across this landscape are critical to protect, maintain and restore lands, resulting in cleaner water, less erosion, high-quality habitat and recreational opportunities. The CRSL project, a partnership among 11 organizations, will combine the current use of easements and fee title acquisition with management practices on the landscape to protect and enhance the military mission and natural resources.
The Grand Forks Prairie Project: proposed NRCS investment of $375,880. Lead partner is the University of North Dakota. The Grand Forks Prairie area in North Dakota provides forage production, wildlife habitat and water management services for the region. This grassland is interspersed with row-crop fields that, unlike other regions of the state, are most commonly managed with single-crop, clean-field practices. A Memorandum of Understanding among state, federal, nonprofit and citizen partners established a working group to focus on grassland retention, improved grazing practices and invasive species management in the area. Through the Grand Forks Prairie Project, the working group will promote restoration and sustainable use of the natural resources in this region via an integrated effort to implement and monitor Environmental Quality Incentives Program cover and grazing practices. The group will engage producers and landowners through regional workshops, and by potential financial assistance for adopting these practices.
Spiritwood Lake Water Quality Improvement Project: proposed NRCS investment of $375,000. Lead partner is the city of Spiritwood. Spiritwood Lake in North Dakota provides economic and recreational benefits to the local community, and an aquatic wildlife habitat that supports those activities. The lake improvement project will restore and protect Spiritwood Lake and its tributaries by engaging landowners in a variety of conservation practices, including riparian improvements, nutrient and grazing management, no-till farming, and use of cover crops and more diverse crop rotation.
Prairie Pothole Working Lands Partnership: proposed NRCS investment of $4,188,000 (a Critical Conservation Area, Prairie Grasslands Region). Lead partner is Ducks Unlimited Inc. Through the Prairie Pothole Working Lands Partnerships, Ducks Unlimited and more than 20 conservation partners will improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat within the Mississippi River watershed through working lands solutions for agricultural producers at local scales. The project will provide additive acres to federal EQIP, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and Conservation Stewardship Program financial assistance programs, while using additional partner contributions and programs to leverage federal funds and promote program opportunities. Through EQIP, cost-sharing practices to promote the retention of expired Conservation Reserve Program contracts into “working grasslands” projects will be prioritized. Under CSP, partners will provide incentive payments to producers who experiment with fall-seeded cover crops and small-grain crops in problem soils, and protect cropped wetlands from drainage. By leveraging additional funds, ACEP will provide easement payments and cost-share for practice implementation on enrolled properties. The project will also use existing local partnership programs to provide incentive payments to landowners who voluntarily conserve wetlands.
James River Watershed: proposed NRCS investment of $2,738,270. Lead partner is Ducks Unlimited Inc. Ducks Unlimited and 10 partners will offer innovative cost-share assistance and incentives to increase the quantity and quality of certain conservation practices being applied within the James River Watershed. On a broader scale, the partners will establish a series of long-term demonstration farms in key landscapes that will be instrumental in changing attitudes toward various conservation farming strategies being promoted.