USDA Invests $21 Million to Help Producers Build Drought Resilience

by Colter Brown

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $21 million as part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) collaboration with the Department of Interior’s (DOI) WaterSMART Initiative to help farmers and ranchers conserve water and build drought resilience in their communities.

These investments complement projects by irrigation districts, water suppliers and other organizations receiving WaterSMART Program funds from the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. NRCS works with Reclamation to coordinate investments in the same community for accelerating water conservation and drought resilience and making a bigger impact where it is most needed.

“The consequences of drought have continued to impact farms, ranches and communities across much of the West and other parts of the country,” NRCS Chief Terry Cosby said. “Drought is a complex challenge, and our collaboration on WaterSMART is part of our strategic approach to help producers conserve water and build resilience while also bringing important partners to the table. Bringing as many like-minded individuals and groups as possible to innovate together is our best solution for water management in the West.”

“Reclamation’s collaboration with NRCS maximizes each agency’s investment in tackling conservation and building drought resiliency in the West,” said DOI Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Earlier this year, Reclamation awarded $42.4 million to 55 WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Projects to support on-the-ground improvements to conserve water and build resilience to drought. Many of the projects announced by NRCS today will complement existing WaterSMART projects, maximizing the benefits of each agency’s conservation programs.”

In fiscal year 2022, NRCS will invest in 15 new priority areas and 25 existing priority areas with continued need, assisting producers and communities in 13 states across the West. NRCS is providing the funding through Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

How WaterSMART Works

Private land managers such as farmers and ranchers can leverage money and resources of irrigation districts, water districts, and other organizations with water delivery authority in their community by coordinating their efforts to conserve and use water more efficiently; increasing the production of renewable energy; mitigating future water conflict in areas at a high risk; and other activities that contribute to water supply sustainability in the Western United States.

Through the WaterSMART Initiative, funds are allocated to targeted areas for eligible participants to enter contracts. Each WaterSMART Initiative project area is carrying out different phases of program delivery at the same time— funding, implementation and evaluation.

NRCS and Reclamation, the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier and second largest producer of hydroelectric power, have been coordinating EQIP and WaterSMART investments since 2011, the effort began as a pilot in California.

This federal collaboration works to provide states, Tribes, local water management entities, and water users alike with coordinated resources to plan and implement actions which balance water supply and demand through modernizing existing infrastructure, improving agricultural landscapes to conserve water resources and bringing attention to local water conflicts.

Two of the WaterSMART Priority Areas are located in Wyoming. The first is the Heart Mountain Irrigation District in Park County and the second is the Lovell Irrigation District in Big Horn County.



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