February 13, 2023
USDA announced new investments and strategies to combat drought and climate change in the western U.S. The Western Water and Working Lands Framework for Conservation Action is a multi-state initiative under the Natural Resources Conservation Services to address water and land management issues in 17 western states.
Through this new framework, USDA will invest $25 million in three new priority areas and 37 existing priority areas via the WaterSMART Initiative. That initiative is an NRCS collaboration with the Bureau of Reclamation to coordinate investments in priority areas for improving water conservation and drought resilience. It includes guidelines for identifying vulnerable agricultural landscapes and new strategies to help NRCS state leaders, water resource managers and producers better respond to challenges.
NRCS Chief Terry Cosby notes that climate change is taking an enormous toll on farmers and ranchers in the West. Extended drought and dwindling water supplies are hurting agricultural operations and entire communities.
“WaterSMART investments are being directed where they can have the most impact, and the new Western Water and Working Lands Framework for Conservation Action lays the foundation for helping producers and communities address pressing climate challenges and build resiliency for the future,” Cosby says. “Complemented by investments from the Inflation Reduction Act, USDA is utilizing this framework and all available tools to deliver assistance that the severity of the water supply challenges in the West demand.”
New priority areas addressed by the additional funding include the Madera Irrigation District Area in California, Hawaii’s Kohala Watershed Partnership Area and the Quincy Columbia Basin Irrigation District West Canal Area in Washington.
News of the new framework for conversation actions came on the same day NRCS announced $850 million in funding for western state producers who want to participate in conservation and climate-smart programs. Funding for that initiative comes from the $19.5 billion allocated for climate-smart agriculture through the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The Inflation Reduction Act provided a once-in-a-generation investment in conservation on working lands, and we want to work with agricultural and forest landowners to invest in climate-smart practices that create value and economic opportunities for producers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an address to the National Association of Conservation Districts annual meeting. “We know that agriculture plays a critical role in the nation’s effort to address climate change, and we’re using this funding to bolster our existing programs, maximize climate benefits, and foster other environmental benefits across the landscape.”
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