Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced support for farmers and ranchers in 10 states to conserve water and improve water quality on agricultural working lands through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), which leverages additional resources and services from conservation partners.

"Agricultural producers are the first stewards of our land and water, and USDA is working hard to support efforts to protect and preserve our water resources," said Vilsack. "The funding announced today will help producers in ten states begin or expand plans and projects to improve water quality."

USDA will provide more than $19.7 million in fiscal year 2010 for 28 projects through this voluntary program. AWEP provides technical and financial assistance to help farmers and ranchers implement activities to improve agricultural water. The program is administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which enters into agreements with conservation partners to help landowners plan and implement conservation practices in project areas established through the agreements. In the project areas announced today, individual farmers and ranchers may apply for benefits.

AWEP partners include federally recognized Indian tribes, states, units of local government, agricultural associations, and non-governmental organizations. To become partners, applicants submitted proposals to address the following enhancement activities:

• Water conservation or quantity restoration or enhancement projects

• Water quality restoration or enhancement projects

• Water quality or water conservation plan development

• Irrigation system improvement or irrigation efficiency enhancement

• Activities designed to mitigate the effects of drought and climate change

• Related activities to help achieve water quality or water conservation benefits on agricultural land.

Partner proposals were selected using a competitive process that considered several factors including statutorily defined priority areas, emphasis for water conservation activities such as conversion of irrigated land to dryland farming and assistance to farmers and ranchers to meet regulatory requirements. Approved partners enter into multi-year agreements with NRCS to promote ground and surface water conservation or improve water quality on eligible agricultural lands in the project area. Once these partner agreements are in place, producers in eligible project areas may apply to participate at their local NRCS office.

Below is a list of approved AWEP projects and Fiscal Year 2010 funding by state:

California is approved for nine projects with a total of $5,896,713 in funding.

Additional information about AWEP is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/awep.

Information about other NRCS conservation programs can be found at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.