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USDA grants to fund cleanup, conservation along Verde River

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Projects to conserve water along the Verde River and on grassland and rangeland in Arizona are among 115 receiving federal funding under a program announced Wednesday.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the $372.5 million awarded under the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program will be magnified because community groups also are committing resources to the efforts.

For example, the Verde River project has The Nature Conservancy, Arizona Game and Fish Department and other groups working together to rejuvenate 6,000 acres of riparian habitat for fish and wildlife and to improve irrigation on 1,000 acres of farmland.

“We certainly would not be here today without the great work of our partners who are involved,” Vilsack said during the announcement at the

Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.

The money is being allocated under the 2014 Farm Bill.

Along with benefits to wildlife and agriculture, Vilsack said the projects will create jobs and economic benefits.

The agency is committing $2.8 million to the Verde River project.

Kevin Hauser, owner of Hauser & Hauser Farms in Camp Verde, who attended announcement, said he is happy to be working alongside The Nature Conservancy to ensure clean water and is optimistic that the partnership will benefit his farm.

“We want to save water,” he said.

USDA also committed $1.5 million apiece to two Arizona Game and Fish Department projects. One is aimed at restoring grasslands that have been depleted over the years by brush and woody plants that use much of the available water. Another will modify fences to be more wildlife friendly and make water available to wildlife on rangeland.