More than $830,000 is available to agricultural producers through an Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) project in a portion of Arkansas’ White County. Producers in the project area have until April 13 to sign up for 2012 funding.

The Little Red River Irrigation Project, a partnership between Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Little Red River Irrigation District, is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers for addressing water quantity and quality concerns in the Little Red River Watershed.

“The project area encompasses approximately 83,838 acres southeast of Searcy containing approximately 34,000 acres of irrigated cropland,” said USDA NRCS State Conservationist Mike Sullivan. “The area has been designated as a critical ground water use area by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.”

Funding will be available to eligible landowners through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). NRCS will provide cost-share for a variety of conservation practices for the purpose of reducing groundwater depletion in order to conserve the Alluvial and Sparta aquifers, to increase surface water quantity for crop irrigation and improve water quality. Irrigated cropland is eligible.

Participation in the on-farm AWEP project will be voluntary and on private land.  Individuals wishing to participate will work with the Little Red River Irrigation District and NRCS to develop a “Water Management Plan.” The plan will include a “Design Plan” consisting of conservation practices needing to be installed and include an “Operation Plan” to enhance the capability of the system.

Sixteen producers who had previously applied for reservoirs and land leveling through the EQIP were able to receive funding through AWEP in 2011.

“With limited EQIP funding, it has not been possible to fund all of the applications we receive each year. This project has allowed those who couldn’t get funding previously to complete the work they have wanted to do for some time,” said Doug McClellan, White County district conservationist.

“Landowners will make the final decision on practices to be installed and operation of the on-farm irrigation system,” Sullivan said. “They will own, operate and maintain the on-farm components of the project and will be responsible for management of their irrigation system.” 

AWEP funds will be paid directly to producers by NRCS. Through the project, producers are paid 60 percent of the cost for the conservation measures they implement. Beginning, limited resource, and socially disadvantaged producers are paid 90 percent.

NRCS and associated conservation partners will deliver this program collaboratively. Applications may be obtained and filed with NRCS at: Searcy Field Service Center, 801 Airport Loop,Searcy, AR 72143.

For more information about AWEP, contact the Searcy FSC at (501) 268-5866, ext. 3; Little Red River Irrigation District at (501) 279-8165 or visit the NRCS Arkansas Web site here.