On January 3, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) issued a notice that it is accepting proposals for new projects under the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). Proposals are due March 19, 2012.
Under the MRBI, NRCS provides financial assistance to farmers in areas covered by MRBI projects who undertake conservation practices specified by a project’s sponsors. Most of the NRCS funding is provided through NRCS conservation programs.
For the new MRBI projects, NRCS is providing financial assistance to farmers of up to $11.74 million in FY2012 funding under the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) and $25 million in funding from the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP). The CCPI, in turn, draws its funding from the three major working lands conservation programs – Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.
Additional information on the MRBI is available on the NRCS webpage for the Initiative.
At a December 2011 briefing, NRCS Chief Dave White announced that $5 million in Conservation Innovation Grants would also be available for this MRBI funding round. The notice of funding for the new MRBI projects also provides that the NRCS Chief may provide additional funding using his discretion under other NRCS conservation programs and mechanisms.
NRCS has designated 54 watershed focus areas in 13 states as eligible for MRBI project funding. The 13 states include the ten states along the Mississippi River’s main stem plus Indiana, Ohio and South Dakota.
The CCPI funding may be used in all designated watersheds for projects that establish practices to reduce nutrient pollution, protect wildlife habitat, and restore wetlands restoration. In the watersheds in the Lower Mississippi basin CCPI funds may be used to address water quantity issues in addition to water quality issues.
Under WREP, states, local units of government and nongovernmental organizations enter into agreements for WREP projects. As part of the WREP agreement, the project sponsor can agree to help landowners submit applications for NRCS assistance and provide additional technical or financial assistance.
At the December briefing on the MRBI, Chief White emphasized that monitoring of water quality changes is a critical issue for evaluation of MRBI projects. NRCS provides financial assistance to landowners for their water quality and monitoring activities under NRCS Conservation Practice Standard 799. NRCS is currently working to improve the implementation of that standard.
Chief White announced that the length of time funding is available to landowners under the Standard will be increased beyond three years. NRCS is also working with the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA and the Agricultural Research Service to improve the coordination of their water quality monitoring efforts with more consistent protocols and complementary activities.