A total of $8.4 million in financial assistance has been made available to support 23 new partnership projects in Mississippi River Basin states under USDA's Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“These projects will fund producer activities that will avoid, control and trap sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, improving water quality throughout their operations,” the announcement contended.

This is additional attention to the Mississippi River watershed at a time that nutrient content of runoff water has become a focus of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking to expand its footprint in enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

"We are building on our Mississippi River actions from previous years by continuing to target priority conservation practices in priority watersheds to improve water quality in the basin," Vilsack said.

The MRBI was first announced in September 2009 and provides financial assistance for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) manages the initiative.

Selection of the 23 projects were based mainly on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus to help improve water quality in the Mississippi Basin, it was noted.

Below are examples selected by the USDA to highlight and the financial assistance available for their implementation in fiscal year 2012:

  • Middle Cache River Project (Arkansas) - $222,900 to improve water quality, reduce sediment and enhance wildlife habitat in a watershed near the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. This project supports the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, a commitment by federal, state, and local entities to preserve and protect the nation's natural and cultural heritage. Sponsor: the Jackson County Conservation District.
  • Upper Minnesota River Project (South Dakota) - $247,287 to improve water quality by helping landowners avoid, control and trap nutrient and sediment runoff from private and Tribal lands. Sponsors: the Roberts Conservation District, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe and others.
  • Lindsey-Honey Creek Watershed Project (Iowa) - $329,000 to reduce nitrogen entering the Mississippi River from the Maquoketa River Basin. Sponsor: The Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District.
  • Middle Fork of Salt River Watershed Project (Missouri) - $366,188 to improve and monitor water quality and agricultural productivity. Sponsor: Randolph County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The projects are funded through NRCS's Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), which works with local partners to help provide outreach and technical assistance to agricultural producers. CCPI funds both new and existing projects each year. It was noted earlier this year that NRCS provided nearly $64 million in financial assistance through the farm bill conservation programs to support the 95 existing MRBI projects first funded in 2010 and 2011.