Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $26 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) awarded by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to entities across the nation for projects that test and prove innovative approaches to conserving America's private lands. The grant winners will demonstrate innovative approaches to improving soil health, increasing pollinator and wildlife habitat, protecting water quality and producing on-farm energy savings. Grant recipients will pay 50 percent of all project costs.
"We're announcing 59 grants today in 47 states that will help some of America's top agricultural and conservation institutions, foundations and businesses develop unique approaches to enhancing and protecting natural resources on agricultural lands," Vilsack said. "The grants will help spur creativity and problem-solving to benefit conservation-minded farmers and ranchers. Everyone who relies on our nation's natural resources for clean water, food and fiber, for their way of life, will benefit from these grants."
Twelve of the awarded grants are for development of water quality trading markets to demonstrate how farmers and ranchers can help municipalities, utilities and others overcome high pollution control costs.
"We believe there are states around the nation that are on the cusp of having thriving water quality trading markets," Vilsack said. "These grant awards will help develop projects that create new revenue streams for farmers and ranchers while they are helping to improve water quality."
This is the first time USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has offered a separate request for proposals that specified support for water quality trading markets. In a water quality trading program, point sources buy environmental benefits or "credits" from landowners who install specific conservation practices.
Water quality trading is a market-based approach that enables facilities to achieve needed pollution controls through the purchase of credits for a particular pollutant. Farmers can produce water quality credits by implementing conservation practices that reduce nutrients or sediment losses, and generally at a much lower cost than a municipal treatment facility. The goal is to achieve water quality improvements more cost-effectively by bringing together participating buyers and sellers.
In early August, one of the grant awardees, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), announced the signing of the first interstate water quality trading compact in the U.S. The states of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio signed onto a plan to launch interstate water quality pilot trades in the Ohio River Basin in 2012. The grant award will help EPRI develop the trading registry to operate the Ohio River Basin program.
Another grantee, the Willamette Partnership, has successfully facilitated trades of water temperature credits to improve salmon habitat in Oregon. This award will help the partnership develop a multistate agreement and rules for trading water quality and temperature credits in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
In the Chesapeake Bay, five awardees will be facilitating and building infrastructure for water quality trading markets: the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Inc.; Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Borough of Chambersburg; Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Conservation & Recreation; and Maryland Department of Agriculture. NRCS will work with the grantees to form a water quality trading network, a forum to share ideas, coordinate program development and evaluate program components.
NRCS administers CIG as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Grants are awarded to state and local governments, federally recognized Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations and individuals. NRCS uses CIG to invest in innovative, on-the-ground conservation technologies and approaches with the goal of wide-scale adoption to address water quality and quantity, air quality, energy conservation and environmental markets, among other natural resource issues.
For a complete list of CIG awardees and more information about NRCS conservation programs online, visit: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov.