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Over $47 Million Earmarked for Western Water, Drought Response
Nebraska Ag Connection - 06/24/2016

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior Thursday announced more than $47 million in investments to help water districts and producers on private working lands better conserve water resources. The funds include $15 million in USDA funds and $32.6 million from the Bureau of Reclamation for local projects to improve water and energy efficiency and provide a strengthened federal response to ongoing and potential drought across 13 states in the West, including two projects in Nebraska.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez announced the funding in Brighton, Colo. The Bureau of Reclamation funding will support 76 local projects through the Department of the Interior's WaterSMART program. Funding from USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will support on-farm water delivery system improvements through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, in tandem with the 76 Interior-funded projects. Vilsack and Lopez were joined by a local water authority and landowner who spoke about the importance of the federal funding in the cost share program.

"By working with communities and producers to more wisely manage the water they have, we help ensure that this and future generations will have sufficient supplies of clean water for drinking, agriculture, economic activities, recreation, and ecosystem health," said Secretary Vilsack. "As drought continues across the west, our farmers and ranchers are stepping up to the plate to partner with communities and strengthen efficiency to better conserve our water supply."

"Water and energy efficiency are intricately linked," Commissioner López said. "When we conserve water, we also conserve the energy it takes to move it. One way we can achieve these efficiencies is to bring federal resources to the table for local projects that focus on saving water. This program represents one more way we're focusing resources on projects to provide resiliency in the face of drought."

Interior's funding is made available through competitive grant programs, which are part of the WaterSMART sustainable water initiative. The grants and selection process are managed by Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, which is the nation's largest wholesale water supplier, providing one in five western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland and potable water to more than 31 million Americans across 17 western states.

Of the 76 new projects announced today, Reclamation has selected 53 projects in 11 states to receive a total of $25.6 million in WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grants which, when leveraged with local and other funding sources, will complete more than $128 million in efficiency improvements. In addition to the new grants announced today, Reclamation will provide $2.1 million to support previously selected WaterSMART projects. Together, these projects are expected to enable water savings of more than 123,000 acre-feet.

Alongside the 53 water and energy efficiency grants, Reclamation also selected 23 additional cost share grants through its WaterSMART Drought Response Program, totaling $4.9 million, which when leveraged with cost-share funding will provide a total of $23.5 million in efforts associated with the program.

Through its EQIP program, NRCS is investing $5.2 million in on-farm assistance to complement several projects that have been funded previously by BOR, and will provide an additional $10 million in 2017 to support some of the Reclamation projects announced today. NRCS is able to complement WaterSMART investments by targeting assistance in areas where WaterSMART sponsors indicated that water delivery system improvements might facilitate future on-farm improvements. NRCS will work with producers in select WaterSMART project areas to offer financial and technical assistance for practices that increase on-farm efficiencies, such as improving irrigation systems.

USDA works with private landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that conserve and clean the water we drink. USDA support--leveraged with historic outside investments--boosts producer incomes and rewards them for their good work. At the same time, USDA investments have brought high quality water and waste services to rural communities, which are vital to their continued health and economic viability. For information on USDA's drought mitigation efforts, visit USDA Drought Programs and Assistance. To learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners adapt to changing climate conditions including drought, visit the NRCS' drought resources.

This partnership is a priority action identified in the President's Memorandum Building National Capabilities for Long-Term Drought Resilience and accompanying the Federal Drought Action Plan. USDA, as permanent co-chair, is working with DOI and other members of the National Drought Resilience Partnership to better coordinate drought-related programs and policies, help communities reduce the impact of current drought events and prepare for future droughts.

In Nebraska, the Upper Republican Natural Resources District, Drought Mitigation and Groundwater Management Project will receive reclamation funding: of $300,000 towards the total project cost of $700,000.

The Upper Republican Natural Resources District in Imperial, Nebraska will develop a groundwater management system and modeling tools using water measurement and monitoring devices. The District, which regulates and limits groundwater usage in a three-county region of southwest Nebraska, will use the data to plan for adjustments in its regulations. Additionally, the modeling tools will aid in the analysis of groundwater responses and availability under pumping scenarios resulting from adjusted regulations. Near real-time data will be available on the District website for water users to assess whether they are over-irrigating. This project will help stabilize groundwater levels, making the project area more drought resilient. The most recent drought that began in 2012 was the driest ever recorded in Nebraska history. This project will assist the District to assess the management actions needed to mitigate impacts of groundwater pumping during drought, thereby preventing potential water conflicts.

Meanwhile, the Lower Platte River Consortium, Lower Platte River Drought Contingency Plan will receive reclamation funds totalling $200,000 towards the $400,000 project cost.

The Lower Platte River Consortium, a partnership that consists of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, the Lower Platte North and South Natural Resources Districts, the PapioMissouri River Natural Resources District, Lincoln Water System, and Metropolitan Utilities District, will develop a drought contingency plan for the Lower Platte River in Nebraska. The Lower Platte River is a key source of water for over 80% of Nebraska's population including supplies for Omaha and Lincoln, thousands of businesses, and over 2 million irrigated acres. Risks from drought conditions include impacts to municipal water supplies, water supplies for irrigation, in-stream flows, and hydropower generation facilities. Projected water supply deficits under future drought scenarios are expected to occur as early as 2018, increasing concerns about the region's susceptibility to potential drought. To mitigate their sensitivity to future droughts, the consortium will use this planning effort to identify water supplies and demands to enhance water supply reliability, leverage existing infrastructure investments, facilitate water transfers and improve the area's resiliency to future droughts.

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