The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recently announced the renewal of a critical partnership focused on infrastructure projects and natural resources planning. The partnership renewal continues joint efforts to combat ongoing threats to our natural resources and promotes interagency strategic planning, coordinating mission-driven assistance that best serves local resource concerns and communities. It also solidifies a legacy of watershed conservation.
“This partnership works extremely well for critical infrastructure projects that benefit local communities,” adds NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “By strengthening collaboration and communication between our two agencies, we will be better positioned to deliver quality and timely solutions to address major water resource concerns in watersheds across the landscape. The scope of our partnership allows both agencies to have a much broader reach and enable more projects to be completed with the best expertise in the Nation.”
“Partnering with other federal agencies like NRCS is extremely important to the USACE Civil Works program,” says Al Lee, USACE Director of Civil Works. “Through effective partnerships, we can combine resources and expertise to support all communities, to include rural and disadvantaged communities, across the country. It’s just a smart way to get things done for the Nation.”
Both agencies are working to implement Bipartisan Infrastructure Law-funded projects to address watershed infrastructure needs. The NRCS and USACE have formed collaborative agreements since 1986, revising as needed to reflect the most pressing shared priorities. While USACE is widely known for constructing monumental feats of engineering (civil and military), it also takes care of waterways and is often among the first to respond in the event of a natural disaster. The core mission of NRCS is conservation, providing technical and financial assistance to protect and improve natural resources. To renew the partnership, the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding April 5, 2022.
Some watersheds or emergency recovery projects require an “all-hands” approach. One Florida project that demonstrates this collaboration is the Fisheating Creek Wetland Restoration Program (WRP) project in Highlands County, where NRCS Florida and the USACE C Jacksonville District are partnering for the restoration of 7,082 acres. The USACE Operations Division teams are conducting wetland restoration activities including dike construction, installation of water control structures, land smoothing, building ditch blocks, and installing sod and fencing. Other NRCS active partners involved in the Fisheating Creek WRP project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“The project is the largest NRCS contiguous wetland restoration project in the country and integrates multiple landowners on over 34,000 acres of permanent wetland easements,” says Roney Gutierrez, NRCS Florida Assistant State Conservationist for Easements. “Fisheating Creek flows southeast into Lake Okeechobee, which in turn flows into the Everglades. The Northern Everglades is one of the last frontiers for large\scale land conservation in Florida and a high priority area for NRCS.”
Wetlands decrease the flow of surface water leaving the land and reduce the concentration of nutrients entering local water sources, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, and south Florida’s coastal systems. NRCS wetland easements provide habitat for numerous rare, and federally endangered and threatened species including the Florida scrub jay, Crested caracara, Wood stork, Bald eagle, Florida panther and Red-cockaded woodpecker.