Last week, the UDSA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that it will invest $10 million in the partner-driven Central Arizona Regional Irrigation Efficiency project. This project is a part of NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

RCPP is a partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on agricultural land. By leveraging collective resources and collaborating on common goals, RCPP demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships in delivering results for agriculture and conservation. This is the next step in ensuring that Central Arizona Agriculture can continue to both sustain economic prosperity and steward precious natural resources in the face of severe cutbacks on the Colorado River.

In addition to rehabilitating and improving well infrastructure for five Pinal County irrigation districts, the project will also continue the region’s concerted focus on conservation through irrigation technology, research, and education. The $10 million in federal funding will serve as a match to bolster commitments from private and state funding sources, all dedicated to increasing the efficiency of groundwater delivery for Central Arizona Agriculture.

Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse applauds NRCS’s decision to fund this project. “This project proposal brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to find solutions for a significant agricultural area in our state,” Smallhouse said, a rancher from southern Arizona. “Pinal County agriculture contributes 25 percent of Arizona’s agricultural sales, sustains rural communities and other agriculture sectors throughout the state. We are proud to be a part of this partnership and look forward to working with all involved. Without the conservation title of the Farm Bill and its programs, efforts such as these would not be possible and we are very appreciative of the support of the NRCS, the State of Arizona and all others committed to Pinal County agriculture. There is a long process ahead, but the award is very encouraging!”

Farmers in Pinal county are encouraged by the grant award. “Pinal county agriculture is vital to our economy, a 2.3-billion-dollar industry,” said Pinal County Farmer Bryan Hartman.  “Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation Drainage District (MSIDD) looks forward to using these funds to continue to improve our irrigation infrastructure and sustain our food and fiber production which is critical to sustaining our farms and ranches.  We are appreciative to the USDA NRCS for coming thru with some funding for the Drought Contingency Plan.” Hartman is also president of MSIDD.

While irrigation districts, like MSIDD in Pinal county, have already invested millions in water savings efforts in the last decade through infrastructure improvements in current wells and ditches, the accelerated timeline imposed by the state-approved Drought Contingency Plan means that irrigation districts in the region must move much more quickly than anticipated to mitigate the challenges. This grant becomes an important support effort in the cause.

In an earlier interview, Hartman highlighted how important the irrigation districts role has been and farm and ranch families for the water infrastructure built over the decades. “The beauty of MSIDD and other irrigation districts and various partners is that we have the infrastructure built here because of our forefathers and all those that helped build the Central Arizona Project. But now, we have been rehabbing these wells that have basically been allowed to be moth balled and sit. Today we can distribute this water to the canal system and make water available to growers. It is a very cooperative district where we’re all working together; we’re partners.”

This $10 million award is part of more than $200 million in partner-driven natural resource conservation projects funded through RCPP, a Farm Bill-funded conservation program. More about the projects funded through RCPP is available on the NRCS website.


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