The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced close to $800 million in federal funding for locally led solutions to regional conservation challenges via its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The five-year, $1.2 billion federal program was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill to award funds to projects that improve soil health, water quality, water use efficiency, and wildlife habitat, as well as activities that otherwise support natural resources on private lands. In 2015, USDA has awarded $370 million to 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and Puerto Rico, which will be bolstered by approximately $400 million from stakeholders. TRCP is a proud partner of the following 2015 RCPP project leads: Ducks Unlimited, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited.
To read more about RCPP projects improving working lands and wildlife habitat, click here.
Water is deeply personal. We tend to take it for granted until something happens to the water we drink or fish in. Even when a chemical spill shut off water to hundreds of thousands of West Virginians, most of us probably looked at it as a tragic news story rather than as motivation to examine whether our drinking water source is vulnerable, if our favorite trout stream is impaired or if our local wetland is at risk of destruction.
That’s why solutions to our water challenges are most successful when driven by local participation: those closest to the water know it best and have the greatest interest in fixing it the right way. However, because local leaders often do not have sufficient financial or technical resources available, locally-driven solutions work best when integrated with resources from a variety of stakeholders, including federal agencies.
Recognizing this federal role in water conservation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced nearly $800 million in funding through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for 115 locally-led solutions to regional conservation challenges. This effort will take $370 million in federal funds and match it with $400 million in funds committed by project partners. Many of these projects will be led by sportsmen’s organizations working together with local farmers and ranchers to protect our working landscapes and fish and wildlife habitat.
Take, for instance, the Verde River Flow and Habitat Restoration Initiative led by TRCP partner The Nature Conservancy (TNC). With $2.8 million in support from RCPP, The Nature Conservancy and five other partners in the Verde River Valley of Arizona will improve irrigation water management and irrigation water delivery on 1,000 acres of working lands, enhance 6,000 acres of riparian habitat, and protect 400 acres of agricultural lands through conservation easements over five years. Easements will be focused on lands that already have significant investment in on-farm conservation practices and are critical to ensure long-term investments are protected. TNC has been working in the Verde Valley for three years already to improve water conveyance infrastructure; now, their efforts will be supercharged with a greater on-farm focus.
As another example, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, along with 31 partners, is receiving $8 million from RCPP to modernize water management for agricultural uses in the Lower Gunnison River Basin. Many local efforts are underway already to improve conveyance and delivery of water as well as improve on-farm irrigation practices. With this grant, project participants will be able to integrate limited, disparate efforts under a coordinated leadership team, including local producers, to achieve greater water efficiency results and multiply environmental benefits. In addition, the partners will target areas with high selenium levels to reduce pollutant levels in the basin, producing water quality as well as water quantity benefits. This project will accelerate progress towards water users’ common goal: utilizing water resources wisely while ensuring healthy fish and wildlife populations and agricultural sustainability.
Both of these examples are localized so it may not be obvious why this new federal effort is so important to anyone outside the chosen project areas. But there are at least two reasons why we all should take note of this new conservation program. First, though the most direct benefits of river and habitat improvements will be felt in the project areas, these benefits accrue downstream, whether it’s through more water being left in the river for fish or fewer pollutants entering the watershed. Second, this model of locally-driven solutions coupled with broad stakeholder support should set the tone for conservation in the future, and the novel solutions it will produce will be replicated nationwide. Even if your favorite hunting and fishing grounds didn’t benefit from this first round of projects selected, the lessons learned from them should be coming to a watershed near you soon.
Want more on RCPP? Check out this handy USDA infographic here.