EDF Praises $320-M Initiative for Mississippi River

A new $320 million, four-year initiative announced last Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the potential to significantly improve drinking water quality for tens of millions of Americans in the Mississippi River Basin, according to Environmental Defense Fund.

Among the most significant challenges facing the Mississippi River is runoff of excess nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, from farming operations in the upper part of the river basin that contributes to both local water quality problems and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative will leverage funding in the 2008 farm bill for voluntary conservation programs administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with state, local, and private resources. It will help farmers in 12 states improve the management of their lands during Fiscal Years 2010-2013 to benefit water quality in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The states include: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

"We commend USDA for utilizing the 2008 farm bill's conservation provisions and funding in a way that holds tremendous promise for addressing one of the nation's biggest environmental priorities: improving the health of the Mississippi River," Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for Environmental Defense Fund. "We look forward to working with the agency to make this initiative a success."

The USDA conservation programs – the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), the Conservation Innovation Grants program, and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program – engage partners in innovative, focused efforts to improve the management of cropland and livestock operations in watersheds that are currently delivering significant excess nutrients to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. These partners include state and local governments, producer associations and conservation and environmental organizations. CCPI, through which USDA will provide $200 million of the $320 million for the Mississippi River Basin Initiative, was authorized by Congress for the first time in the 2008 farm bill with the strong support of Environmental Defense Fund and other conservation and farm organizations.

"Among the most promising of the solutions is the targeted use of incentives to help farmers reduce the loss of excess nutrients from their fields in the areas of the basin where it will produce the biggest benefit to water quality," concluded Hopper. "The USDA's Mississippi River Basin Initiative represents the kind of approach that is required to start making real progress in efforts to improve the health of the Mississippi River."

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