Progress has been made in several areas of the Illinois Watershed Project. The Illinois River begins in the Ozarks region of northwest Arkansas, near Fayetteville, Ark., and meanders west into Oklahoma, 5 miles south of Siloam Springs, Ark., near the town of Watts, Okla.
“Work by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and our partners, such as the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC), Illinois River Watershed Partnership (IRWP), Washington and Benton county conservation districts, and landowners in six sub-watersheds in the IRWI project area contributed to the delisting,” said Mike Sullivan, NRCS State Conservationist in Arkansas. High turbidity levels in the upper Illinois River in Arkansas resulted in the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) adding a 2 1/2-mile segment of the Illinois River to the Clean Water Act’s list of impaired waters in 2006.
Peacheaer and Tyner creeks are tributaries to the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller in northeastern Oklahoma and have problems associated with excessive phosphorus and sediment since at least the early 1990s. Peacheater Creek landowners implemented riparian buffers, alternative livestock water sources and better animal waste management techniques. As a result, nutrient loading to Peacheater Creek declined. In addition, stream bank erosion declined and biological communities improved.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) promotes coordination between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners. The NCRS provides assistance to producers through partnership agreements, program contract or easement agreements. Assistance is delivered in accordance with the rules of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Watershed Operations and Flood Prevention Program in certain areas.
The RCPP encourages partners to join in efforts with producers, owners of agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources on regional or watershed scales. The NRCS and its partners are able through RCPP to help producers install and maintain conservation activities in selected project areas. Producers may apply for RCPP assistance in several ways; at the producer’s request, a partner may submit the application for participation in a selected project area, directly at their local USDA Service Center in a selected project area or directly at their local USDA Service Center in a critical conservation area designated by the Secretary of Agriculture.
The IRWP was established 10 years ago to bring funding agencies and organizations together with local landowners and community stakeholders in an effort to improve and protect the water quality. The IRWP is the lead partner for the project that covers 484,947 acres. Project goals include improving water quality by reducing nutrient loads entering the watershed, increasing plant and soil health, decreasing soil erosion, improving energy efficiency and improving wildlife habitat. The IRWP communicates easily adapted water management practices to individuals and business through their programs. The IRWP teaches improving, installing and maintaining healthy riparian buffer zones along streams to reduce the erosion of stream banks dramatically decreasing the amount of sediment entering streams decreasing turbidity.
The IRWP has used education, outreach, water quality monitoring, conservation and restoration projects to accomplish its goals.
“Agricultural producers know NRCS practices are based on sound science that helps them remain productive and competitive while providing water quality and environmental protection,” said Delia Haak, executive director of the IRWP said. IRWP’s education and outreach programs involve a music program, after school program including art and nature camps for kids; an urban workshop for educators; a rain garden academy and annual conference many of which are offered at their Watershed Learning Center and Watershed Sanctuary at Cave Springs, Ark. IRWP water quality monitoring projects have included a USGS Biological assessment project, a phosphorous removal structure project with Oklahoma State University, watershed-based management plan stakeholder meetings, world water monitoring day, make a difference day and creek cleanups. IRWP conservation and restoration projects have included a riparian project; rain garden projects; growing conservation and greenhouse project; NRCS EQIP education/demonstration workshops and low impact development and green infrastructure projects along the Razorback Greenway and Watershed Sanctuary in Arkansas. In 2015, 17,189 people participated in IRWP conservation projects contributing 29,619 hours to the community for watershed conservation, education and volunteerism resulting in an economic impact of $621,989.


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