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Source: USDA news release

Targeted conservation work in the Mississippi River basin will unite the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers and local organizations to help clean waterways that flow into the nation's largest river. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing $10 million this year in 27 new high-priority watersheds and 13 existing projects that will help improve water quality and strengthen agricultural operations.

This investment is part of a commitment of $100 million over four years to address critical water quality concerns in priority watersheds while boosting rural economies.

"We know that when we target our efforts to the places most in need, we see stronger results," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "These projects focus on watersheds in need, where we have opportunities to work with partners and farmers to get conservation work on the ground. "

NRCS worked with state agencies, farmers and other partners to identify high-priority watersheds that align with established state priorities and have strong partnerships in place - and where targeted conservation on agricultural land can make the most gains in improving local and regional water quality.

Conservation systems implemented in these areas will reduce the amount of nutrients flowing from agricultural land into waterways, curb erosion and improve the resiliency of working lands in the face of droughts and floods. This investment builds on $18.5 million already allocated to projects in the basin in fiscal 2015.

These projects are funded through the agency's Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), which uses funding from several Farm Bill conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), to help farmers adopt conservation systems to improve water quality and habitat and restore wetlands.

Since MRBI's start in 2009, NRCS has worked with more than 600 partners and 5,000 private landowners to improve more than 1 million acres in the region. Through these partnerships, the initiative more than quadrupled the number of contracts addressing water quality concerns in targeted project areas.

New projects include:

Lower South Fork Root River Watershed, Minnesota:
NRCS will work with the Root River and Fillmore soil and water conservation districts, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, The Nature Conservancy, Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center, Monsanto and others to achieve a 40 percent reduction in sediment and associated phosphorus by 2020. NRCS plans to invest $39,000 in fiscal 2015 as part of a $1.2 million commitment in the watershed over four years.

Headwaters-Big Pine Creek, Indiana: NRCS will work with the Benton and White county soil and water conservation districts, Big Pine Creek Watershed Group, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Technology Information Center, Ceres Solutions LLC, Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, Indiana Soybean Alliance, Pheasants Forever and Indiana Department of Environmental Management to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in this critical watershed to improve the conditions of waterways for recreational use and wildlife. NRCS plans to invest $50,000 in fiscal 2015 as part of a nearly $500,000 commitment over four years.

Long Lake, Mississippi: NRCS will work with Delta F.A.R.M., Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Commission and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to address water quality concerns in priority watersheds identified in the Delta Nutrient Reduction Strategy. NRCS plans to invest $710,000 in fiscal 2015 as a part of a total commitment of $4.3 million over four years.

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