On May 21, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide $33 million in assistance to farmers and ranchers. The money will be used on conservation improvements that will enhance water quality in 174 watersheds.

The funding is being provided through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In its third year, NWQI expanded to include more small watersheds across the nation, and it builds on efforts to target high-impact conservation in areas such as the Mississippi River basin, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and Great Lakes. Eligible landowners will apply for assistance under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for installing conservation systems that help avoid, trap and control run-off in these high-priority watersheds. These practices may include nutrient management, cover crops, conservation cropping systems, filter strips, and in some cases, edge-of-field water quality monitoring. NRCS and partners also are measuring the effects of conservation practices on water quality. Edge-of-field monitoring and an NRCS tool, Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff, help landowners assess the positive impact of their conservation efforts. Read more.

This year, USDA also is providing funding for new, landmark conservation initiatives under the 2014 Farm Bill. The programs will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agriculture lands, support outdoor recreation activities, and boost the economy.