SmallTownNews
Water conservation program offers $58.4 million in assistance

By The Aberdeen Times staff

The Aberdeen Times of Aberdeen, Idaho

Up to $58.4 million in financial assistance is available nationwide to agricultural producers and entities through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), established in the new farm bill to promote ground and surface water conservation and water quality improvement.

AWEP offers financial and technical assistance to help farmers and ranchers carry out water enhancement activities that conserve ground and surface water and improve water quality on agricultural lands such as cropland, pasture, grassland and rangeland. All EQIP requirements and policies will apply to AWEP.

The 2008 Farm Bill established AWEP as a component of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), according to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

"AWEP is designed to address water quality and quantity issues on a regional level," said Idaho State Conservationist Jeff Burwell. "By leveraging federal funds with the efforts of local and regional partners, we can encourage a more collective approach to addressing specific concerns. This is an excellent opportunity for irrigation districts or other agricultural organizations to assist agricultural water users address a host of water issues here in Idaho. Without a State or local partner, Idaho producers are going to miss out on this opportunity."

USDA is seeking project proposals from potential partners through this program. The AWEP Request for Proposals was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 15. Proposals must be submitted by March 2. The Request for Proposals can be viewed at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service's (USDA-NRCS) Web site.

Agricultural water enhancement activities include;

— water quality or water conservation plan development;

— water conservation restoration or enhancement projects, including conversion to the production of less water-intensive agricultural commodities or dry land farming;

— water quality or quantity restoration or enhancement projects;

— irrigation system improvement or irrigation efficiency enhancement;

— activities designed to reduce drought impacts; and

— other related activities that will help achieve water quality or water conservation benefits on agricultural land.

Under this new program, NRCS can contract directly with agricultural producers who are included in approved partner proposals. Eligible partners include federally-recognized tribes, states, units of local government, or agricultural or silvicultural associations. Producers who apply for AWEP assistance must meet EQIP eligibility requirements. All AWEP funding must go to producers. Like EQIP, contract terms for producers under AWEP run from 2 years to 10 years.

Agricultural producers in selected project areas can apply for available AWEP funds at their local USDA service center. Potential partners may submit proposals to be considered for a partnership agreement with USDA on the Internet at http:/ www.grants.gov/applicants/apply_for_grants.jsp using the on-line instructions.

For additional information about the AWEP under EQIP, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/ programs/EQIP or call Bob Bartholomew at (208) 484-3803 during business hours.



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