USDA allots $21 million to drought-stricken states for water conservation

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, May 18, 2015 - USDA today said it will make $21 million in financial and technical assistance available in eight states hit by drought to help farmers and ranchers weather the effects of water scarcity this season and to mitigate water shortages in years to come.

“Since the historic drought of 2012, dry conditions have persisted in many parts of the country, particularly in the West,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release. “Today's investment will provide additional resources in drought-stricken areas to help farmers and ranchers implement solutions to mitigate the impacts of sustained drought.”

Together we can feed the Bees"

The $21 million in funding, authorized by the 2014 farm bill, will be provided through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Assistance will be targeted in areas experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions (classified as D3 or D4, respectively) as of May 5 according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Those areas fall within eight states: California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Utah.

Farmers and ranchers operating within these highly-impacted areas may be eligible for NRCS assistance to help them apply selected conservation practices. These include prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, cover crops, nutrient management and high-efficiency irrigation systems.  

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“We will have a 30-day open (application) period. We're going to ask folks to come in, if they would like assistance in these (areas), please apply for additional assistance,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said during a conference call from Washington.

During the call, Vilsack was asked if sequestration - automatic spending cuts mandated by Congress - could affect future conservation spending.

Vilsack said there was “no question” sequester is a “flawed” policy, but in the event that another sequester occurs in 2016, USDA will be ready. Vilsack said his agency's conservation programming is based increasingly on partnerships and cost-sharing, which relieves some of the agency's budgetary burden.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), for instance, leverages private sector investment dollar for dollar with federal funds for landscape-scale conservation projects, he said. Earlier this month, USDA announced it would grant $245 million for RCPP projects this year, after allocating $394 million during the 2014-2015 cycle.

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