Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined President Barack Obama in Fresno, Feb. 14, to announce USDA will provide additional assistance to help farmers, ranchers and residents affected by severe drought in California. At President Obama’s direction, USDA has made implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill livestock disaster assistance programs a top priority, and plans to have the programs available for sign up by April 15.
The conservation assistance includes an estimated $5 million in new aid for California, an additional $5 million in emergency watershed protection grants and $3 million in water grants for rural communities.
USDA has declared 54 counties in California as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. Additional USDA resources announced for California and other drought-stricken states include:
• $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers. The 2014 Farm Bill contains permanent livestock disaster programs including the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, which will help producers in California and other areas recover from the drought. At President Obama’s direction, USDA is making implementation of the disaster programs a top priority and plans to have the programs available for sign up in 60 days. Producers will be able to sign up for the livestock disaster programs for losses not only for 2014, but for losses they experienced in 2012 and 2013. California alone could potentially receive up to $100 million for 2014 losses and up to $50 million for previous years.
• $5 million in targeted conservation assistance for the most extreme and exceptional drought areas. The funding is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by USDA. The assistance helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water.
• $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program assistance to the most drought impacted areas of California to protect vulnerable soils. EWP helps communities address watershed impairments due to drought and other natural occurrences. This funding will help drought-ravaged communities and private landowners address watershed impairments, such as
USDA is making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality. These funds will be provided to eligible, qualified communities by application through USDA-Rural Development’s Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants (ECWAG). California state health officials have already identified 17 small community water districts in 10 counties that are at risk of running out of water in 60-120 days. This number is expected to increase if current conditions persist.