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USDA NRCS Invests in Water Quality Initiative in Texas

Kyle Wright

TEMPLE, Texas, Feb. 24, 2020 – The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $2.28 million this year to help agricultural producers improve water quality in two high-priority watersheds in Texas through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI).

The Lampasas River NWQI priority area is located within the Lampasas River watershed near the towns of Lampasas, Kemper, and Briggs, Texas. These watersheds are upstream of Stillhouse Hollow Lake which is a primary drinking water source for much of the surrounding area. These sub-watersheds are in Lampasas and Burnet counties and were selected because of concerns for low dissolved oxygen and bacterial loading. Through this concentrated effort, eligible producers will invest in voluntary conservation practices to help provide cleaner water for themselves, their neighbors and downstream communities. Landowners, NRCS and other partners will work together to preserve and maintain water quality, which in turn will ensure prosperity, productivity and quality of life for surrounding communities and lands.

The Lavon Lake NWQI priority area is located within the Lake Lavon watershed, which is the uppermost reservoir on the East Fork of the Trinity River and is a primary source of raw water supply for the North Texas Municipal Water District. Sub-watersheds are in Grayson, Fannin, Collin and Hunt counties and were selected because of nutrient, sediment, and bacterial loading. NRCS will provide technical assistance and planning tools to determine which conservation actions will provide the best results to improve water quality in the watershed. Nutrient management systems, erosion control, conservation tillage, prescribed grazing, and buffer systems are just some of the practices that will be offered.

“We’ve learned that when we partner with producers to deliver conservation practices to critical watersheds, we see a positive impact,” said Drenda William, acting NRCS state conservationist for Texas. “Through these partnerships, we maximize the delivery of our conservation efforts which yields greater results to water quality and benefits the public, our natural resources, and farmers’ bottom lines.”

Through this initiative, NRCS offers technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to implement practices that avoid, control and trap nutrients and sediment, which in high quantities negatively impact water quality. NRCS has strengthened focus on watershed assessment and partner engagement in priority small watersheds in fiscal 2020. NRCS will soon solicit state partners for new watershed and source water protection areas for fiscal 2021.

National Water Quality Initiative

The initiative is a partnership among NRCS, state water quality agencies, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify and address impaired water bodies through voluntary conservation. NRCS provides targeted funding for financial and technical assistance in small watersheds most in need and where farmers can use conservation practices to address impaired surface water. In 2019, NWQI was expanded to include the protection of both surface and ground sources of drinking water.

Water quality is improving in NWQI watersheds. State water quality agency partners report that 27 percent of NWQI monitoring watersheds show an improvement in water quality in at least one of the NWQI-monitored pollutants (based on 2016 data). Further, 81 percent of these improvements can be attributed to or associated with agricultural conservation practices implemented by farmers and ranchers.

Since its launch, NWQI has:

  • Helped producers implement conservation on 825,000 acres
  • Reduced sediment loss by 850,000 tons
  • Reduced phosphorus loss by 2 million pounds
  • Reduced nitrogen loss by 9.6 million pounds

NRCS accepts applications for conservation programs year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally. Producers interested in technical and financial assistance should contact their local NRCS field office.

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