USDA launches water conservation program

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) traveled to Michigan Tuesday to launch a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program to fund public-private partnerships to reduce water pollution.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program combined four programs into one and was authorized earlier this year in the Agriculture Act.

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“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” Vilsack said in a statement. “By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own.”

The Agriculture Act gave USDA $1.2 billion for the five-year program, which it can leverage to $2.4 billion through matches.

USDA will competitively award funds to private companies, universities, non-profit organizations and local and tribal governments that are crafted for specific regions. Officials will look to fund programs that seek to improve water health and efficiency, wildlife habitats, soil health and other factors that come from water projects.

Part of USDA’s funding is set aside for “critical conservation areas,” which include the Great Lakes region, the Chesapeake Bay region and the Mississippi River basin, among others.

“Today’s historic announcement will have a lasting impact on the health of our Great Lakes by strengthening our efforts to protect our water, land, and wildlife habitat for future generations,” Stabenow said in a statement. “Partnering businesses and non-profits with our farmers and conservation leaders will bring greater focus and additional resources to the Great Lakes region and critical areas across the country.”