WASHINGTON, D.C. -- USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service today announced $5.3 million in grants to 15 universities and USDA's Agricultural Research Service to conduct research aimed at improving and maintaining healthy watershed habitat and water supplies.

"Developing research-based information on water quality issues is critical for America's farmers and ranchers," said Colien Hefferan, CSREES administrator. "Understanding the sources and fate of microorganisms in water used in agricultural production is critical to maintaining a safe food supply."

The awards are administered through the CSREES' National Research Initiative Water and Watershed competitive grants program. This grant program seeks to reduce pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa in waters derived from agricultural and rural watersheds, as well as maintain adequate water supplies for agricultural crop and livestock production and rural use. The CSREES Water and Watershed program has awarded more than $24 million in the past five years.

Funded projects include research at the University of North Carolina to study microbial transport in storm water runoff from residential and agricultural watersheds. Research at the University of California - Riverside will develop cost-efficient treatment strategies that harness natural ways to eliminate bacterial pathogens from agricultural runoff. University of Vermont researchers will quantify dairy farm pathogens in barnyard and milking operation wastewater and in feed bunk and farm ditch runoff.

The fiscal year 2008 grants are being awarded to the following institutions:

University of Alaska, $99,951
USDA-ARS, $400,000
University of California - Riverside, $400,000
University of Hawaii, $110,309
University of Idaho, $394,852
University of Illinois, $399,592
University of Illinois - Chicago, $392,941
Purdue University, $250,523
Kansas State University, $10,000
Eastern Kentucky University, $323,404
Michigan State University, $260,259
Cornell University, $385,572
University of North Carolina, $397,136
North Dakota State University, $100,000 and $290,383
Drexel University, $24,457
University of Vermont, $96,494

CSREES' NRI program has been the largest peer-reviewed, competitive grants program at USDA. Its purpose is to support research, extension and education grants that address key problems of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture. The 2008 Farm Bill did not renew the NRI, but did authorize the creation of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.