Up to $235 million will go to improve U.S. water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday.
USDA's new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a facet of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will facilitate the funding.
RCPP, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, aims to improve local partnerships between private companies, local and tribal governments, universities, non-profit groups and other non-government partners, along with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to design solutions that work best for their region.
This will be the second round of projects funded through RCPP. In the first round, USDA announced $394 million in awards, which represented two years' worth of funding for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
"These public-private partnerships can have an impact that's well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own," Vilsack said. "This initiative allows local partners the opportunity to design and invest in conservation projects specifically tailored for their communities."
The first launch of the program brought "tremendous interest," Vilsack said, and for the latest RCPP round, USDA will be looking for "even greater emphasis on expanding partnerships that break down barriers, work across boundaries, leverage resources and create new opportunities for innovation."
Secretary Vilsack made the announcement at a signing ceremony in Denver for the Colorado Pressurized Small Hydropower Partnership Project, a 2015-funded project that focuses on water quantity resource concerns in Colorado. The project, which will receive $1.8 million in NRCS support alongside local partner investments, will facilitate the conversion of flood irrigation systems to more resource-efficient pressurized irrigation systems with integrated hydropower.
Other projects funded in the earlier round include restoration of Longleaf Pine in seven military installations across the U.S. This is expected to preserve production of valuable products, such as high quality wood and pulpwood for paper, that are important to rural economies.
Another project, "The Tri-State Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorous Reduction Initiative" brings together more than 40 partnering organizations from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana to reduce the runoff of phosphorous to waterways in the western basin of Lake Erie.
USDA is now accepting proposals for RCPP. Pre-proposals are due July 8, 2015.