Improving the Mississippi River Basin Watersheds

News
May 25, 2012

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has earmarked nearly $32 million to restore wetlands across the Mississippi River Basin in seven states from Iowa to Louisiana.

When fully implemented, the projects will prevent sediment and nutrients from entering waterways, decrease flooding, and improve bird and fish habitat.

NRCS estimates that this investment will restore 11,400 acres to wetland habitat.

“These projects are great examples of USDA working with partners to improve water quality in the Mississippi River Basin,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Through these projects, agricultural producers are voluntarily taking action to restore and protect wetlands on private lands in watersheds that USDA has identified as being critical to water quality restoration in the basin.”

The funding follows challenges and lawsuits brought by environmental groups against the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement policies relating to the basin, and what has been called the “Dead Zone,” an area in the Gulf losing aquatic life.

The projects will involve more than 7,000 acres this year and up to 30,000 acres when completed.

Vilsack said in an interview that the program is targeting areas with “pressing natural resources issues,” like the hardwood bottomland along the Mississippi River from Wickliff, KY, to Baton Rouge, LA. This area will get the bulk of the money, at $20 million, to help with flooding problems and animal habitat.

Landowners interested in applying for funding should contact their local NRCS office or the partner listed below. Signup dates may vary based on the individual project.

Arkansas

Boeuf River Watershed; NRCS and Partner Funding: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission $2,178,316 Cache/L’Anguille; NRCS and Partner Funding: Craighead County Conservation District $214,748 Cache River and Lower Whit-Bayou Des Arc wetlands restoration; NRCS and Partner Funding: The Nature Conservancy $3,030,000

Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee

Lower Mississippi River Batture hardwood forest and wetlands restoration; NRCS and Partner Funding: Mississippi River Trust $20,231,933

Iowa

North Raccoon River Wetland Initiative; NRCS and Partner Funding: Iowa Department of Natural Resources $6,183,000 NRCS provides funding for these new projects through its Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), part of the agency’s Wetlands Reserve Program.

According to a USDA news release, NRCS already has formalized WREP agreements with 47 landowners in the basin, investing $17.8 million in long-term conservation easements and wetland restoration projects since 2010.

In the 20-year-old WREP, more than 11,000 private landowners have voluntarily enrolled more than 2.3 million acres. The cumulative benefits of these wetlands reach well beyond their boundaries to improve watershed health, the vitality of agricultural lands, and the aesthetics and economies of local communities, according to Vilsack. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor

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