Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Friday announced the investment of $59 million this year from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the health of the Mississippi River basin, making a total of approximately $289 million for the initiative that reduces nutrient and sediment run-off.
"The Mississippi River basin is an example of how voluntary conservation practices in small watersheds can help improve a larger system," said Vilsack. "This initiative provides an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to voluntarily do their part and get recognized for it, while also continuing to build on the success of our producers, partners, and other state and federal agencies whose combined efforts have made significant progress toward reducing nitrogen and sediment runoff in the Mississippi River Basin."
Funds support voluntary conservation practices to sustain agricultural profitability in the basin.
More than 640 small watersheds across 13 states are part of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which is in its fourth year. Through cooperative conservation partnerships, NRCS works with hundreds of local organizations and conservation experts to focus funds to help the greater efforts of water quality improvements in the river.
By using a partnership approach, resources are targeting to the most vulnerable acres in the watershed with the most sediment and nutrient losses. Producers and landowners work with NRCS to begin voluntary conservation practices to improve water quality, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat and sustain agricultural profitability in the basin.
Previous conservation on cropland in the upper river basin reduced edge-of-water sediment losses by about 61%, nitrogen by 20% and phosphorus by 44%, according to NRCS' conservation effects assessment project, showing how effective conservation is for the basin's health.
NRCS has identified the basin as a top priority due to water quality concerns, primarily related to the effects of nutrient loading on the health of local water bodies and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.