Forty-one watersheds in 12 states, known as focus areas, will be part of a new initiative to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin.

Nationwide, the selected watersheds exceed 42 million acres, or more than 5 percent of the basin’s land area.

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) will provide approximately $320 million in USDA financial assistance over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

MRBI will help producers implement conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land.

“This initiative is going to help USDA, partner organizations, state and local agencies, and agricultural producers come together to improve water quality and the quality of life for the tens of millions of people who live in the Mississippi River Basin,” Vilsack said.

“I encourage as many people as possible to join us in this major conservation effort.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manages the initiative.

Next, smaller watershed projects will be selected through a competitive process under NRCS’ Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). NRCS assistance will be leveraged with contributions from partners, expanding the capacity available to improve water quality throughout the Basin.

Three requests for project proposals will be announced in the next several weeks, including one for CCPI. Funding for CCPI projects will come from NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).

Two other requests for proposals will fund projects through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program and Conservation Innovation Grants.

For information about these programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.

Selected watersheds include:

Arkansas/Missouri: Cache; Lower St. Francis.

Arkansas: Lake Conway-Point Remove; L’Anguille;

Kentucky/Tennessee: Bayou De Chien-Mayfield.

Kentucky: Licking; Lower Green.

Louisiana: Mermentau.

Louisiana/Arkansas: Bayou Macon; Boeuf River.

Mississippi: Big Sunflower: Upper Yazoo.

Mississippi/Louisiana/Arkansas: Deer-Steele.

Missouri/Iowa: Lower Grand.

Missouri: North Fork Salt; South Fork Salt.

Missouri/Arkansas: Little River Ditches.

Tennessee: Forked Deer; South Fork Obion.

Tennessee/Kentucky: Obion; Red River.

For information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including eligibility requirements, go to the MRBI web page at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi_overview.html or your local USDA Service Center.

A map of the project area is available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/mrbi/mrbi_watersheds_maps_and_list_page.html.