About $6.5 million will be dedicated to projects that help farmers and ranchers conserve water in the Ogallala aquifer region and improve water quality, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday.
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The funding will targeted to seven priority areas to support their primary water source and strengthen rural economies, USDA said. It helps conservationists and farmers and ranchers plan water conservation and quality projects.
"This work not only expands the viability of the Ogallala Aquifer but also helps producers across the Great Plains strengthen their agricultural operations," Vilsack said in a USDA statement.
Underlying the Great Plains in eight states, the Ogallala supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States. The reservoir was created more than a million years ago through geologic action and covers about 174,000 square miles; mainly in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The aquifer also covers part of South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
It has long been the main water supply for the High Plains' population and according to USDA is being depleted at an unsustainable rate.
Through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is directing funding in fiscal 2015 to support the Ogallala.
This year's work is planned in seven priority areas in five states and will continue for up to four years. USDA estimates it will conserve billions of gallons of water per year.
The investment builds on $66 million that NRCS has invested through OAI since 2011, which helped farmers and ranchers conserve water on more than 325,000 acres.
Vilsack said much of the funding invested by USDA has been matched or supplemented by individual producers.
See a sample of NRCS 2015 Ogallala Aquifer Initiative projects>>
The fiscal 2015 priority areas, among others, include:
• Northern High Plains ground water basin in Colorado: NRCS will help farmers install new technologies on irrigated operations to more efficiently use water. These technologies include weather stations, sensors and telemetry for soil moisture and nutrients and advanced irrigation systems. Water and conservation districts are also developing incentive programs for producers. This conservation work will conserve 2.1 billion gallons of water over four years, USDA said.
• Priority areas in Kansas: NRCS will work with producers to reconvert irrigated cropland to dryland farming in high priority areas. USDA estimates the conservation work will conserve 1.8 billion gallons of water over four years.
• Priority areas in eastern New Mexico: NRCS will work with producers to convert irrigated cropland to dryland cropping systems and restore grasslands. NRCS will work with producers to reduce pumping on 1,190 acres each year over four years. This conservation work will conserve 1.56 billion gallons of water over four years, USDA said.
"Water is a precious resource, and the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative helps our farmers and ranchers use it wisely," NRCS Chief Jason Weller. "This is especially important in a place like the Ogallala, where drought conditions have prevailed in recent years. We know we can't change the weather, but we can help producers be ready for it."
See more details on the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Ogallala Aquifer Initiative FY 2015 investments.
Continued reading: Water quality on the farm, a three-part series