The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White recently announced nearly $58 million for water conservation and water quality improvements on agricultural working lands.

The funding was made available for 63 projects in 21 states through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). Florida has two projects approved for $1,750,000. One project, with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), is approved at $1 million dollars and the second project was funded at $750,000 with the Suwannee River Partnership (SRP).

If you are a producer in portions of Charlotte, Desoto, Manatee, Hardee, Polk, Hillsborough, Sarasota, and Highlands counties you may be eligible for the SWFWMD project. You may apply for the Suwannee River Partnership project if you are in portions of Jefferson, Taylor, Lafayette, Suwannee, Columbia, Union, Bradford, Alachua, Gilchrist, Levy, Dixie, Madison and Hamilton counties.

Interested agricultural producers can now sign up for the respective project at their local NRCS field office. The sign up will end on August 17, 2009.

The funds awarded under the SWFWMD’s project will be used to fund AWEP contracts with EQIP eligible producers that result in increased irrigation system efficiency by upgrading or retrofitting existing systems; development of surface water/tailwater capture and reuse; and precision irrigation systems within the Southern Water Use Caution Areas.

Under the SRP project, EQIP eligible producers will be provided financial and technical assistance to improve irrigation water management and irrigation systems to conserve water.

The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) promotes ground and surface water conservation and improves water quality by helping farmers and ranchers implement agricultural water enhancement activities. With the services and resources of other conservation partners, AWEP allows the Federal Government to leverage investment in natural resources conservation.

AWEP was established by the 2008 farm bill and funding comes from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the program for USDA. NRCS implements AWEP by entering into EQIP contracts directly with agricultural producers. All AWEP recipients must meet EQIP requirements.

The sign up ends on Aug. 17, 2009 so interested agriculture producers are encouraged to sign up for the respective project at their local NRCS field office as soon as possible.

For more information about AWEP projects visit www.fl.nrcs.usda.gov/programs or contact Jeffrey Woods, assistant state conservationist for programs at 352-338-9515.