The North Carolina Foundation for Soil & Water Conservation has received a $100,000 grant from Altria Group Inc. to develop a “Strategic Plan for Protecting Agricultural Water Resources for North Carolina,” agriculture and conservation leaders announced.

“The need for planning is simple: We don’t want to come out of a drought both hungry and thirsty,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “A statewide survey of agricultural water use showed that farmers withdraw only about 1 percent of the water used daily in North Carolina, but often the perception of the public and even government is that they use too much. By planning now, we can avoid highly reactionary policy measures brought on by future droughts and population growth.”

The plan will identify water resources, future needs and ways to better manage water resources. The project will also guide farmers to improve efficiency, conservation and supply of water resources. In addition, the foundation also plans to offer demonstrations focused on these objectives. The project is targeted for completion by October.

The plan’s development will be guided by the Agricultural Water Work Group, a collection of 14 representatives from agriculture, government, academia and conservation. Troxler and North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten co-chair the group.

“Competition for water resources is expected to increase significantly over the next 20 years,” Wooten said. “We need to protect our water resources and our state's number one industry — it’s that simple. This plan will identify the specific things that we can do to reduce water usage, increase our capacity to store water, and keep agriculture growing well into the future.”

Cecil Settle, executive director of the foundation, said: “The statewide extreme drought of 2007-2009 rudely reminded farmers and public officials throughout North Carolina of the uncertainty of reliable water supplies in agriculture as well as in urban communities. It also caused us to realize the necessity of planning for proper use and management of this precious resource going forward.”

Paige Magness, senior manager of corporate responsibility strategy for Altria Client Services, said: “The foundation and its partners share Altria’s commitment to promoting the sustainability of the natural resources on which we all depend. We are proud to support this thoughtful approach to water conservation in agricultural communities.”