December 6, 2011
On Monday, December 5, USDA announced the creation of the Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI), through which the agency will distribute up to $50 million in financial assistance over three years to improve ecosystem health in the Gulf Coast.
GoMI will pull its funds from six Natural Resources Conservation Serive (NRCS) programs — Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP).
The Initiative will provide assistance to farmers and ranchers in 16 priority areas along seven major rivers that drain to the Gulf. This includes all five states along the Gulf Coast (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas). The seven river systems were chosen because they drain into the Gulf of Mexico and have substantial agriculture-related nutrient and sediment loading problems. All of the basins either contribute to or are listed as impaired and threatened waters under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. In each of the priority areas, NRCS will partner with third-party entities — primarily state and local agencies and conservation districts — to implement the Initiative.
According to NRCS, the assistance will “help producers apply sustainable agricultural and wildlife habitat management systems that maintain agricultural productivity; avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff; and reduce sediment transport. GoMI also will reduce current over-use of water resources and prevent saltwater from entering the habitats of many threatened and endangered species.”
The focus of the Initiative differs slightly between the states, watersheds, and rivers. For example, while the objectives and goals of the Initiative in each of the seven basins includes the reduction of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loss, only for the Lower San Antonio River in Texas does the Initiative seek to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. Visit the new the GoMI website for a full list of the states, river basins, and priority watersheds that are part of the Initiative. You can also download full descriptions — including goals, proposed actions, resource concerns to be addressed, and a list of partners — for each of the seven main project areas.
According to yesterday’s press release, “NRCS and its conservation partners developed this initiative in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and President Obama’s call to action to help restore the waters, shores and wildlife populations along the Gulf Coast.”
USDA is implementing the Initiative as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts through the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. According to the release, “This effort incorporates what the public and communities have requested through their input into the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Strategy to restore the Gulf Coast.”
USDA’s announcement of the Initiative was timed to align with yesterday’s release of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force’s final strategy for long-term ecosystem restoration for the Gulf Coast. The press release from that event further describes how GoMI fits into the Task Force’s larger effort: “With the release of the final strategy today, the Task Force marks the beginning of the implementation phase of the strategy by announcing new initiatives, including $50 million in assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help agricultural producers in seven Gulf Coast river basins improve water quality, increase water conservation and enhance wildlife habitat.”