Watershed clean-up efforts accelerated by NRCS

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 13, 2010 -- Obama Administration officials yesterday announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will expand and accelerate its efforts to restore clean water throughout the 64,000 square-mile Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

"A thriving agricultural sector is critical to restoring the Chesapeake Bay," NRCS Chief Dave White said. "Thanks to the 2008 Farm Bill, NRCS has unprecedented ability to help agricultural producers meet their conservation goals."

The Obama Administration released its final strategy for restoring the Chesapeake Bay on May 12, 2010. In the strategy, USDA commits to implementing new conservation practices on four million acres in the bay watershed by 2025. NRCS will play a major role in accomplishing that objective.

NRCS plans to meet this objective by targeting funding to the places and practices that would be most effective in reducing nutrient and sediment runoff. For example, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, provides NRCS with $43 million in fiscal year 2010 and up to $72 million in 2011. Working with local and state partners, NRCS will use these funds to target priority watersheds and conservation practices to maximize water quality improvements in the bay and its tributaries. In addition, NRCS is establishing three focus areas to demonstrate water quality improvements through expanded producer outreach efforts and intensive conservation planning and implementation activities. NRCS is also working with federal agencies and other partners to develop a monitoring plan for these areas to evaluate the impact on water quality.

NRCS will work with partners to accelerate conservation adoption to meet objectives contained in the strategy. Using its Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, NRCS will enter into agreements of up to five years with eligible partners interested in enhancing conservation on agricultural and non-industrial private forest lands. NRCS has made available at least $5 million in financial assistance from two programs--the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program--in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed for this effort this year.

NRCS is also working to accelerate the development and adoption of emerging conservation technologies through its Conservation Innovation Grants. Since 2005, NRCS has provided up to $5 million annually for grants in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that have been used to address many natural resource issues such as manure management and clean water technologies. Conservation partners that have benefited from these grants include American Farmland Trust, Trout Unlimited, Windview Farms, Maryland Grain Producers and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"NRCS is committed to doing more than ever to help agricultural producers achieve their conservation goals and, in turn, achieve the goals of President Obama's Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy," White said.

The NRCS activities are part of a larger Chesapeake Bay Watershed effort that includes a commitment to accelerating the use of riparian forest buffers in the Bay watershed; use of state-of-the art conservation on USDA facilities in the watershed and the establishment of an inter-departmental Environmental Market Team to design an infrastructure that will allow agricultural producers to generate tradable credits by implementing conservation practices on their land.

For more information about NRCS Chesapeake Bay activities, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/chesapeakebay.html. For information about the Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy, visit http://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net/.

NRCS is celebrating 75 years helping people help the land in 2010. Since 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.

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