The USDA has announced $8.4 million in financial assistance is available to support 23 new partnership projects in several Mississippi River Basin states under USDA's Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). These projects will fund producer activities that will avoid, control and trap sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, improving water quality throughout their operations.

"We are building on our Mississippi River actions from previous years by continuing to target priority conservation practices in priority watersheds to improve water quality in the basin," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "USDA is committed to working cooperatively with agricultural producers, partner organizations and state and local agencies to improve water quality and the quality of life for the millions of people who live in the Mississippi River Basin."

The MRBI was first announced in September 2009 and provides financial assistance for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. MRBI is helping producers implement conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land. Selections were based on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus -- nutrients associated with water quality problems in the Basin -- while maintaining agricultural productivity and benefiting wildlife. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manages the initiative.

“We have recognized that targeting money to a specific watershed is more effective than just ‘random acts of conservation’,” said Mike Sullivan, Arkansas NRCS state conservationist. “One of the ways we have done this is through special initiatives within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative targets specific watersheds for specific water quality and quantity practices.”

The 23 selected projects are located in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  The nine projects chosen in Arkansas are:

  • Middle Cache River Project -- $222,900 to improve water quality, reduce sediment and enhance wildlife habitat in a watershed near the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. This project supports the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, a commitment by federal, state, and local entities to preserve and protect the nation's natural and cultural heritage. Sponsor: the Jackson County Conservation District.
  • Lower Arkansas (Upper) -- $607,225 to improve water quality by reducing nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment levels in the watershed by utilizing a combination of conservation practices; enhance wetlands; improve fish and wildlife habitat benefits; and maintain agricultural productivity. Water quality and water quantity will be enhanced through conservation practices in the project area to improve water quality and reduce ground water mining of the aquifer. Sponsor: Bayou Meto Water Management District.
  • Grand Prairie Watershed -- $973,022 to improve water quality by reducing nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment levels in the watershed; enhance wetlands; improve fish and wildlife habitat benefits; and maintain agricultural productivity by utilizing a combination of conservation practices. Water quality and water quantity will be enhanced through conservation practices in the project area to improve water quality and reduce ground water mining of the aquifer. Sponsor: White River Irrigation District.
  • East Arkansas Enterprise Community, Inc., L’Anguille River -- $64,190 to improve water quality by managing and optimizing nutrient management, reduce downstream nutrient loads, reduce sediment entering the watershed, enhance wetlands, and improve fish and wildlife habitat benefits. Water quality and water quantity will be enhanced through a combination of conservation practices in the project area. Sponsor: East Arkansas Enterprise Community, Inc.
  • Big Watershed -- $529,531 to improve water quality, reduce sediment and nutrient loads entering the Big Watershed, enhance wetlands, improve fish and wildlife habitat benefits, and maintain agricultural productivity by utilizing a combination of conservation practices. Sponsor:  Phillips County Conservation District.
  • Bayou Meto (Middle) -- $618,395 to improve water quality by reducing nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment levels in the watershed; enhance wetlands; improve fish and wildlife habitat benefits; and maintain agricultural productivity by utilizing a combination of conservation practices. Water quality and water quantity will be enhanced through conservation practices in the project area to improve water quality and reduce ground water mining of the aquifer. Sponsor: Bayou Meto Water Management District.
  • Bayou Meto (Arkansas County) -- $632,286 to improve water quality, reduce sediment and nutrient loads entering the watershed, enhance wetlands, improve fish and wildlife habitat benefits, and improve the biological health of the streams. Water quality and water quantity will be enhanced through conservation practices in the project area to improve water quality and reduce ground water mining of the aquifer. Sponsor: Arkansas County Conservation District.
  • Tyronza River Watershed -- $495,163 to improve water quality, reduce sediment and nutrient loads entering the Tyronza Watershed, enhance wetlands, and improve fish and wildlife habitat benefits. Water quantity and in-stream water quality will be enhanced through implementation of the approved conservation practices. Sponsor: Mississippi County Conservation District.
  • Wapanocca Lake Watershed -- $159,627 to improve water quality by reducing nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment loads entering the watershed and to Wapanocca Wildlife Refuge. Water quality will be enhanced through conservation practices in the project area. Sponsor: Crittenden County Conservation District.

“Four of the projects address water quality and water quantity in critical ground water decline areas in priority watersheds,” Sullivan said. “Working together through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, we are helping private landowners implement complete conservation systems on their land that help them maintain productivity; avoid, control, and trap sediments and nutrients; improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat. Funding for the nine new projects in Arkansas will total approximately $49.7 million over the next four years.”

The projects are funded through NRCS's Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), which engages local partners to help provide outreach and technical assistance to agricultural producers.  CCPI funds both new and existing projects each year.

“Arkansas's conservation partners’ efforts to submit MRBI proposals resulted in unprecedented recognition by USDA in the award of implementation funding that will benefit the environment and numerous farmers and ranchers in east Arkansas,” said J. Randy Young, executive director of Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

Earlier this year, NRCS provided approximately $15 million in financial assistance through Farm Bill conservation programs to support the 11 existing MRBI projects in Arkansas first funded in 2010 and 2011. 

“MRBI has rejuvenated producers, farmers and ranchers unlike any program we have ever offered in the conservation community,” said Debbie Moreland, program administrator with Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts. “This initiative allows them to target natural resource concerns in a manner that is conducive to their operation. However, the biggest reward is this initiative demonstrates how, by working together collectively to target water quality, we can reap results far greater than individuals working independently.”

Learn more about the CCPI and the MRBI here.