ANN ARBOR, MICH. – Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grant recipients for a newly created program that targets farm conservation efforts in priority regions across the country to improve the quality of soil, water, and fish and wildlife habitat. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program, as it is known, will fund projects in the Great Lakes region to help reduce farm runoff—a vexing problem that contributes to harmful algal blooms, beach closings, and unsafe drinking water.
“Reducing nutrient runoff has always been a priority for Great Lakes restoration, but the toxic algal bloom that poisoned drinking water for more than 400,000 people in the greater Toledo area last summer has underscored the urgency of this issue,” said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “These projects will reduce sediment and nutrient build up, produce results that can be replicated in other parts of the Great Lakes, and move us closer to the goal of waters that are always safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. And these projects won’t just help residents of the lakes—they will directly benefit farmers by helping to conserve soil health.”
The initiative, under the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is funding 115 projects across the county. More than 20 of the projects will be implemented in the Great Lakes states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, including one in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay watershed and another in the Western Lake Erie watershed. The federal program is investing more than $370 million across the country. Each project has at least a 1-to-1 match, bringing the total investment to more than $740 million annually.
“Approval of the conservation partnership program was a priority of the Healing our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition,” said Ambs. “We are excited to see the first grants announced that will help bolster Great Lakes restoration efforts at a time when we’re seeing a lot of inspiring results.”
The regional conservation partnership program was created by the 2014 Farm Bill and is a combination of four former conservation programs. Funding for the Great Lakes region is targeted at reducing nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural land as a way to improve habitat for fish and wildlife.
For more information on how Farm Bill conservation efforts help improve the health of the Great Lakes, read our 2012 report here.
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition consists of more than 115 environmental, conservation, outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums representing millions of people, whose common goal is to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Learn more at www.healthylakes.org or follow us on twitter @healthylakes.