Wednesday, January 14, 2015

USDA Announces Regional Conservation Partnership Program Project Selections

On January 14, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the awarding of $372.5 million for 115 conservation projects that will be implemented across the nation under USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a program newly authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill (more formally known as the "Agricultural Act of 2014").  The USDA anticipates that the projects will leverage an additional $400 million in partner contributions.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) allocated RCPP funds across three different selection categories: 70 projects were chosen through a state competitive process administered by State Technical Committees; 21 projects were selected based on a national competitive process; and 24 projects will occur within designated Critical Conservation Areas.

Selected Final RCPP Projects (click to enlarge)
At least one project was selected in each of the 50 states, including the following awarded in the ten main stem Mississippi River states: Minnesota (3 - one within the Red River Basin), Wisconsin (4), Iowa (3), Illinois (4), Missouri (6), Kentucky (2), Tennessee (2), Arkansas (4), Mississippi (4), and Louisiana (4), with some projects occurring in multiple states.

According to USDA, 50 percent of the awarded projects are designed to address water quality concerns, 24 percent wildlife conservation, 18 percent water quantity, three percent soil quality, and five percent "other" concerns.   A listing of all of the awarded projects, their locations and the major project partners can be found here.
Mississippi River Basin
Critical Conservation Area

Twenty-four of the selected RCPP projects are focused within the "Critical Conservation Areas" (CCAs) named by NRCS last year, with five of those 24 designated as Mississippi River Basin CCA projects.  In May, 2014, the agency named a 13-state Mississippi River Basin area as one of eight priority conservation areas that will have access to the CCA pool of RCPP funding to be made available within the eight areas. In addition to the Mississippi River Basin, the other seven CCAs include the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, California Bay Delta, Great Lakes Region, Columbia River Basin, Colorado River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, and Prairie Grasslands Region. Portions of those latter two areas fall within the Mississippi River Basin. Within the River Basin, one project was selected in the Longleaf Pine Range, and two in the Prairie Grasslands Region CCAs.

Critical Conservation Areas (click to enlarge)
The program is designed to facilitate partner-producer agreements that further conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of soil, water and wildlife on a regional scale. It is expected that partners will bring cash matches, technical expertise and local knowledge to the conservation picture.  The partners for the selected projects include agricultural and silvicultural producer associations, groups of producers, State or local governments, Native American tribes, farmer cooperatives, water or irrigation districts, municipal water or wastewater treatment entities, conservation nongovernmental organizations, and institutions of higher education.

According to the NRCS RCPP web site, the Program combines the purposes and functions of four former regional conservation programs – the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Great Lakes Basin Program.  Funding for the RCPP projects is allocated from four Farm Bill conservation programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program; Conservation Stewardship Program; Agricultural Conservation Easement Program; and Healthy Forests Reserve Program.

The Request for Proposals for the next round of RCPP funding will be issued in the spring, 2015, when it is expected that slightly more than $200 million will be made available for the subsequent suite of RCPP projects.

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