Over the next four years, $320 million will be provided for voluntary projects in priority watersheds through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will manage the initiative that will be implemented in 12 states within the Mississippi River Basin. Potential partners at local, state and national levels will go through a competitive process to participate in the program.
"The Obama Administration is committed to taking bold steps with our State and local partners to clean up the entire Mississippi River Basin, a critical natural resource that provides drinking water for tens of millions of Americans," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Industrial, municipal, residential, and agricultural sources have all contributed pollutants to the waters of the Mississippi River Basin, and the MRBI will provide resources that will help us come together to address this issue."
Thus far the response to the announcement of the initiative has been very positive with a wide variety of groups including the Nature Conservancy, National Corn Growers Association and the Environmental Defense Fund all praising the action.
"The USDA's National Resources Conservation Service, with its multi-local presence and great record of service to American agriculture, is the right agency to implement a voluntary, incentive-based program," said Michael Reuter, Central U.S. Senior Director of Conservation Strategies for The Nature Conservancy. "The Mississippi River is both a national treasure and a national icon. Developing a 12-state program to help protect clean water and wildlife habitat in the context of healthy agricultural systems is the right approach."
The goal of the initiative is to target resources in those watersheds that could have the largest impact on improving water quality in the basin and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. NCGA has voiced strong support for the program.
"This is terrific news for growers," said David Ward, chairman of NCGA's Production and Stewardship Action Team. "Farmers have long been carrying out many of the recommendations listed by the USDA as best practices, and their support will help us promote these efforts and expand their adoption throughout the basin. We've always believed that an approach that values and promotes voluntary efforts works much better than regulatory mandates, which usually come at a much higher cost."
The Environmental Defense Fund also praised the initiative saying USDA's utilization of the 2008 Farm Bill's conservation provisions in this manner holds tremendous promise for addressing the pollution in the Mississippi River and that they look forward to working with USDA to make the initiative a success.