Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and partners across the nation together will direct up to $720 million towards 84 conservation projects that will help communities improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. These projects make up the second round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Through the 2015 and 2016 rounds, USDA and partners are investing up to $1.5 billion in 199 conservation projects. Projects are selected on a competitive basis, and local private partners must be able to at least match the USDA commitment. For this round, USDA received 265 applications requesting nearly $900 million, or four times the amount of available federal funding. The 84 projects selected for 2016 include proposed partner matches totaling over $500 million, more than tripling the federal investment alone.

"The Regional Conservation Partnership Program puts local partners in the driver's seat to accomplish environmental goals that are most meaningful to that community. Joining together public and private resources also harnesses innovation that neither sector could implement alone," Vilsack said.

"We put out a call for innovative and results-focused projects that will deliver the most conservation impact," Vilsack said. "Our partners answered with creative, locally-led approaches to help producers support their ongoing business operations and address natural resource challenges in their communities and across the nation."

Water quality and drought are dominant themes in this year's RCPP project list with 45 of the 84 projects focusing on water resource concerns.

"From the harmful impact of algal bloom in the Great Lakes region to the devastating effects of persistent drought in California, RCPP helps private landowners and producers develop solutions that work for them and meet the needs of their communities and local wildlife," Vilsack said. "It's encouraging to see so much interest in the program."

USDA is committed to invest $1.2 billion in RCPP partnerships over the life of the 2014 Farm Bill. Today's announcement brings the current USDA commitment to almost $600 million invested in 199 partner-led projects, leveraging an additional $900 million for conservation activities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. USDA invested $370 million in 115 high impact RCPP projects during 2015.

Click to see the full list of 2016 projects.