NRCS Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative

In November of 2009, Secretary Vilsack announced a commitment of $320 million over the next four years for a Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) to address water quality, wildlife habitat and natural resource conservation concerns in the Basin.   The Agency’s focus will bring badly needed resources to bear on the very serious water quality problems in the Basin.

MRBI will assist farmers in 41 selected watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin.  For example, selected watersheds in Mississippi are the Big Sunflower, Upper Yazoo, and Deer-Steele watersheds. The Acting Mississippi River Basin Initiative Coordinator for NRCS is Aaron Lauster, 202-690-0318.

Conservation Practices promoted by the MRBI:

The Initiative emphasizes a systems approach to address water quality resource concerns. A cornerstone of this approach is to use screening and ranking systems to focus program support on producers who agree to implement a system of practices that has been determined to address specific high-priority resource concerns in selected watersheds.

Instead of addressing one aspect of a resource concern by implementing one practice, participants will implement a system of multiple practices and management techniques that work together to address the nitrogen and phosphorous generated from agricultural runoff. 

NRCS has created a list of core and supporting practices approved for the Mississippi River Basin Initiative in December of 2009.  These practices address priority resource concerns using recognized methods of avoiding, trapping, and controlling pollutants. Used together, these three methods will address the entire nutrient system. NRCS has approved a number of core and supporting practices to be included in the Initiative. These practice options allow flexibility for producers in different States and/or with different types of agricultural operations while focusing resource and technological solutions on the primary goals of minimizing runoff and leaching and reducing downstream nutrient loads.

MRBI Funding

NRCS funding will be offered first under the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). CCPI takes its funding from three existing NRCS conservation programs — Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program — in partnership with state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, Indian Tribes, and institutions of higher education.

In 2010, two other requests for proposals for Mississippi River Basin Initiative projects were offered through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program and Conservation Innovation Grants. All grant proposal deadlines occurred in April/May of 2010, the first year of the program.

To learn more, consult the NRCS factsheet, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, or your local resource conservation district.