USDA Launches Initiative to Improve Mississippi River Water Quality

A new $320 million, four-year initiative that could significantly improve drinking water quality for tens of millions of Americans in 12 states in the Mississippi River Basin is one step closer to reality, according to the national nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. That's because the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week issued a request for proposals from stakeholders in 12 river basin states to engage farmers in high- priority watersheds in those states in cooperative efforts to reduce water pollution.

The states from which USDA is seeking input are Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. The stakeholders eligible to submit proposals include local and state governments, farm groups, and conservation organizations. Stakeholders have until May 3 to submit proposals to support projects in high-priority watersheds in the 12 states.

"The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative holds tremendous promise for addressing one of the nation's biggest environmental priorities: improving the health of the Mississippi River," said Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for EDF. "Improving water quality in the river and its tributaries requires a targeted approach that engages farmers and other stakeholders in real solutions. This new initiative is a big step in the right direction."

Among the most significant challenges facing the Mississippi River is the runoff of excess nutrients from manure and commercial fertilizer, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus. While nitrogen and phosphorus are important for crop production, when these nutrients end up in streams, they contribute to both local water quality problems and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative will leverage funding provided by the 2008 farm bill with resources provided by stakeholders to support projects that will help farmers in the 12 states improve the management of their lands to benefit water quality in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, EDF said.

Representing more than 700,000 members, EDF said it has, since 1967, endeavored to link science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit www.edf.org.

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