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USDA Funding Three Oklahoma Conservation Projects

Conservation efforts are getting a new approach in Oklahoma and across the nation. On Wednesday, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made a funding announcement for USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) where state and federal funding is leveraged with private dollars to address regional conservation efforts. USDA will award more than $370 million in funding for 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The funding was made possible through passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.

On Friday, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) announced three far reaching projects of the RCPP. Two OCC-led projects will assist farmers and ranchers with installing conservation practices in the Elk City Lake and Grand Lake watersheds and the OACD-led project will establish conservation demonstration farms across the state.

Ron Hays was in Elk City for the announcement and talked with Oklahoma State Conservationist Gary O'Neill as NRCS will oversee these projects. Click or tap on the LISTENBAR below to listen to the full interview.

O'Neill emphasized these projects are unique both for the innovative way they are funded and the extensive impact they will have on water quality and soil health beyond their geographic project areas.

“These locally-led projects were selected for their potential to have a broad, regional impact,” O’Neill said. “We can increase the reach of any one project thanks to the flexibility in how RCPP allows us to fund projects.”

O’Neil said this program looks to maximize funding resources. The Elk City Lake watershed project will combine RCPP funds with OCC, the City of Elk City, North Fork of Red River Conservation District and EPA. The Elk City project will receive $1,396,000 in federal funding with partners contributing $1,560,000 for a total of nearly $3 million. The list of partners in the OCC-led Grand Lake watershed project is even more extensive, including Grand River Dam Authority, Kansas State University and six conservation districts. This project will receive $4 million in funding from NRCS through EQUIP, with another $4.1 million from partners for a total of $8,130,000. The Healthy Soil project will receive $97,800 through NRCS, $195,000 from partners for a total of about $292,000.

The Elk City Lake project will address water quality concerns, where recent blue green algae blooms and fish kills in the Lake have increased its priority for rehabilitation. The Middle and Lower Neosho River Basin Conservation program will address water quality concerns that impact water quality in the downstream Grand Lake.   Ten small watersheds, which water quality modeling have indicated are among the highest contributors to nutrient, sediment, and bacteria loading in Grand Lake, have been targeted for the program. The Oklahoma Healthy Soils project will focus on the implementation of soil health practices on cropland with an emphasis on establishing cover crop on-farm trials on ten farms across the state of Oklahoma.

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