The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $33 million in assistance to agricultural producers to make conservation improvements that will improve water quality in 174 watersheds. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), will work with the farmers and ranchers to reduce nitrogen, phosphorous, sediment and pathogen contributions from agricultural land.

With the help of partners at the local, state and national level, NRCS identified priority watersheds in each state where on-farm conservation investments will deliver the greatest water quality benefits. Now in its third year, the NWQI has grown to include small watersheds across the nation as well as high-impact conservation areas such as the Mississippi River basin, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes.

The funding was announced on Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack’s behalf by Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ann Mills during a Hypoxia Task Force meeting, held this week in Little Rock, Arkansas, according to a USDA press release.


"This targeted approach provides a way to accelerate voluntary, private lands conservation investments to improve water quality and to focus water quality monitoring and assessment funds where they are most needed," Mills said in the press release. "When hundreds of farms take action in one area, one watershed, it can make a real difference to improving water quality."

"The collaborative goal is to ensure people and wildlife have clean, safe water," said NRCS Chief Jason Weller. "Water quality improvement takes time, but by working together and leveraging our technical and financial assistance, we are better able to help farmers and ranchers take voluntary actions in improving water quality while maintaining or improving agricultural productivity."

Eligible landowners will receive assistance under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for installing conservation systems that help avoid, trap and control run-off in these high-priority watersheds. These practices may include nutrient management, cover crops, conservation cropping systems, filter strips, and in some cases, edge-of-field water quality monitoring.