MARKS, Miss. — Efforts toward conserving water usage and ensuring an optimal quality level for residents and farmers alike are continuing in the north Delta.

Recently, conservation officials with the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Marks offered a tour of recent water projects that touch on a variety of everyday life in Mississippi — from a popular recreational area to a school campus to a rice farm.

Ken Oatis Sr., retired supervisor with NRCS after 32 years and now a planner with the Tunica County Soil and Conservation District, said farmers have a vested interest in water issues, either directly or indirectly, and whether they realize it or not today.

“If conservation projects are in place, they help farmers save on water costs,” he said.

Over the past several years, joint efforts between both offices have provided regional farmers with about 300 riser boards — free of charge — they can install on their land to help curtail irrigation runoff.

Meanwhile work, including installation of a weir five years ago on Brushy Bayou, in the southeast end of Tunica County, has helped solve frequent flooding in the town of Tunica, Miss.

Oatis said after new industry, especially casinos, began burgeoning in the late 1990s, Tunica County’s administration set aside funding to eliminate flooding downstream by forging an agreement with the soil conservation district.

“This addresses flood control, water retention, water quality, wildlife habitat and wildlife restoration,” Oatis said. “It has made a big difference. And farmers on the lower end of the county are getting more water because of work done in the north end.”

At Faust Farms, near Sledge, Miss., Norris Faust Jr. says personally cooperating with the NRCS in Quitman County that led to improved water drainage and flood control has transformed what was a “marginal piece of land” into a productive, 43-acre rice field, expected to generate 180 bushels an acres in yields this year.

The land was equipped with a series of riser boards; the cost share project cost about $10,000.

“If it was not for this project, we would have had to have burn soybeans (in adjacent acreage), it had very little runoff water,” Faust said.

He thinks farmers should not tarry in exploring options in the conservation program.

“A project like this one, in two years, with the changes coming in the farm bill, will not be here. So farmers will want to take advantage of the NCRS,” he said.

At Quitman Middle School, a cooperative effort among the Tunica and Quitman county boards of supervisors and soil and water conservation districts, the public school system, NRCS, and the Yazoo Water Management District (YMD), helped alleviate persistent flooding on campus.

The project, which entailed raising a sidewalk and installing a culvert, cost $22,000, according to Quitman County Superintendent Val Towner.

On property in Coahoma County, a willing cotton farmer and engineering work done by NRCS have helped ensure the water quality level in one of the Delta’s most popular recreational destinations.

Justin Norris, district conservationist with NRCS, said during heavy rainfall, sandy sediment had begun depositing into nearby Moon Lake before NRCS officials intervened. With cooperation from the farm’s owner, Roland Jones, a drop inlet structure along with a riser board was put in place to capture the runoff, and work to re-stabilize the ditch’s bank with a complement of rip rap rock now helps filter the sediment.

Cost of the project, split between YMD and NRCS, was about $130,000.

“The farmer was very helpful, and in fact, he checks on the pipe and gives us updates,” he said.

Oatis said while the north Delta has been proactive in dealing with water issues and is in some regards unique in the entire state in its efforts, more work is needed ahead.

Presently, the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a six-year feasibility study on water improvements in Quitman, Tunica and Coahoma counties. Cost of the study is split evenly with the Corps and local conservation offices.

“When it is finished it will identify all the concerns and all of the resources for the area,” Oatis said.

“Right now the area is on the borderline in terms of meeting water quality standards, so we are trying to get ahead on the topic before it becomes an issue,” he said.

e-mail: abell@primediabusiness.com