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USDA Awards $8.5 Million to Improve Communities' Water Sources

Department Also to Serve as Permanent Co-Chair of the National Drought Resilience Partnership

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2016 – In celebration of World Water Day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today awarded more than $8.5 million in grants that 10 universities will use to help communities improve water resource quality and quantity. In addition, the Department was tapped to serve as permanent co-chair of the National Drought Resilience Partnership, with the other co-chair rotating between six other agencies every two years; the Department of Commerce will serve as co-chair for the Partnership's first two years.

"Access to a sufficient and safe supply of water is critical to our nation's health and also to our economy, and we must act to protect this precious resource," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The grants we are announcing today are the latest of many steps USDA has taken to help communities who are struggling with water quality. Enhanced federal coordination through the National Drought Resilience Partnership will further support locally-led drought resilience projects to improve residents' access to water and increase the effectiveness and sustainability of American agriculture."

The National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) was formalized by the Presidential Memorandum: Building National Capabilities for Long-Term Drought Resilience announced by the White House yesterday. NDRP builds upon the National Integrated Drought Information System and will better coordinate federal support for locally-driven drought-related efforts, helping communities reduce the impact of current drought events, and preparing for future droughts. Other NDRP agencies include the Departments of Defense, Interior, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

NDRP is designed to help communities sustain and expand efforts to reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of drought. Drought affects millions of Americans and poses a serious and growing threat to the security and economies of communities nationwide. Responding to and recovering from past droughts has shown that focused collaboration across all levels of government and the private sector enables productive solutions that build regional resilience.

In support of this work, the 10 grants announced will support research, education, and outreach through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Water for Agriculture Challenge Area, administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The Challenge works with universities to develop regional systems for sustainable use, reuse, flow and management of water; and at the watershed and farm scales, tackle water issues related to agricultural production and environmental sustainability. Grants recipients include:

  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., $2,400,531
  • University of Maryland, College Park, Md., $3,449,757
  • University of Montana, Missoula, Mont., $486,621
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., $484,990
  • Stockholm Environment Institute U.S., Davis, Calif., $484,764
  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Calif., $485,000
  • University of California, Riverside, Calif., $126,181
  • Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, Texas, $499,895
  • Pennsylvania State University, State College, Penn., $49,188
  • Universidad Metropolitana, San Juan, Puerto Rico, $50,000

Colorado State University scientists will examine the impact of rapidly declining water levels of the Ogallala Aquifer in the Ogallala Aquifer Region and optimizing the use of groundwater to sustain food production systems, rural communities and ecosystem services. The University of Maryland will focus on the adoption of transformative on‐farm solutions that enable the safe use of nontraditional water sources for irrigation water of food crops. More information about other projects can be found on the AFRI website.

Funded through the 2014 Farm Bill, the AFRI Water for Agriculture Challenge addresses critical water resource issues such as drought, excess soil moisture, flooding, water quality and related challenges in an agricultural context. Funding for this program will be used to develop management practices, technologies, and tools for farmers, ranchers, forest owners and managers, public decision makers, public and private managers, and citizens to improve water resource quantity and quality.

NIFA's integrated research and education programs, supporting scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. Find out more online at


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