New partnership to support water resources in California

Resilient Lands & Waters partnership will focus public and private resources toward restoring the Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor and California secretary for natural resources John Laird to announce a new partnership focused on conserving and restoring the Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters, as part of President Obama’s Resilient Lands & Waters initiative.

Over the next two years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (FS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest $130 million in the partnership, which also includes the Interior Department, the State of California, non-profits and private landowners. In total, the partnership will yield a minimum investment of $210 million by all partners.

The Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters provides 25 million people in California with drinking water and much of the water for irrigated agriculture in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

In addition to the partnership, USDA is announcing that $13.7 million is available to California producers and ranchers through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and approximately $6 million remains available to drought-stricken communities through Rural Development’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG), making nearly $20 million available to drought-affected communities, the announcement said.

"As several years of historic drought continue to plague parts of the western United States, there is a significant opportunity and responsibility across federal, state and private lands to protect and improve the landscapes that generate our most critical water supplies," Vilsack said. "Healthy forests and meadows play a key role in ensuring water quality, yield and reliability throughout the year. Looking beyond this particular drought, resources announced today will help us add resiliency to natural resource systems to cope with recurring drought and changing climate patterns."

The Resilient Lands & Waters initiative is a part of the Obama Administration’s Climate & Natural Resources Priority Agenda, a comprehensive commitment across the federal government to support the resilience of America's natural resources.

Through this partnership under the Resilient Lands and Waters initiative, USDA, DOI, the State of California, and local partners will direct a minimum of $210 million in combined resources towards restoration that will help improve water quality and quantity, promote healthy forests and reduce wildfire risk in the Sierra-Cascade California Headwaters region.

USDA noted that the federal partnership dovetails with California Gov. Jerry Brown's California Water Action Plan, a suite of short- and long-term goals to put California on a path to more resilient and reliable water systems and healthy ecosystems over the next five years. Over the next year, California will commit as much as $81 million in ecosystem restoration in the Sierra Nevada.

Last month, USDA announced the availability of $21 million through EQIP to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the short and long term effects of drought. Vilsack announced June 24 that 65% of the available funds, or $13.7 million, are being reserved for California producers and ranchers. Applications are currently being accepted at local NRCS offices.

Vilsack also announced that USDA has provided $2.7 million in ECWAG funds for eight California communities and $1.98 million to the Coyote Band of Pomo Indians of California in 2015. The remaining ECWAG funding is available nationwide, and applications are accepted at any time through USDA’s Rural Development state and area offices.

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