Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced $17.5 million in Federal funding for a tri-state project to help protect water quality in the western basin of Lake Erie. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown joined local NRCS staff and project partners for the announcement.

"This project demonstrates what RCPP is all about; it's about putting partners in the driver's seat and helping them achieve their natural resource goals. The diverse partnership that crafted this proposal and pledged their financial and technical resources to leverage Federal funds shows their strong commitment to improving Lake Erie water quality for the 11 million residents that rely on it for drinking water," Deputy Secretary Harden said.

This multi-state RCPP project includes more than 40 collaborating public and private sector organizations with representation from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio state and local governments, as well as non-profit entities, universities and private sector businesses. These organizations have committed resources to leverage $17.5 million in federal funds for the reduction of phosphorus and sediment loading, and harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie.

Project partners will use NRCS conservation practices and innovative demonstration practices that farmers can implement with Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) funds to protect soil health, water quality and quantity, and prevent fish and wildlife habitat degradation.

The targeted approach focuses efforts on 855,000 acres, bringing access to public and private technical assistance, new and on-going innovative conservation practices and expertise for modeling and evaluating outcomes to farmers in these sub-watersheds.

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that this project, along with more than 100 other high-impact projects across all 50 states, will receive more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In turn, these projects will leverage an estimated $400 million in additional partner contributions to improve the nation's water quality, support wildlife habitat and enhance the environment.

More than 600 pre-proposals were submitted for RCPP in 2014. The next announcement of program funding for fiscal year 2016 will be made later in the year.

Today's announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life.