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New program aims to improve water quality in state

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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton officially launched a new agricultural water quality pilot program this week designed to enhance water quality in the state. The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification program is the first of its kind in the nation and is the product of a state-federal Memorandum of Understanding signed by Governor Dayton, Secretary Vilsack and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in January 2012.

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Under the certification program, farmers who implement and maintain approved conservation plans will be certified and in turn assured that their operations meet water quality goals and standards for the term of the certification agreement which lasts up to 10 years.

Minnesota Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Matt Wohlman says farmers in four Minnesota watersheds will have the opportunity to be part of the three-year pilot program.

"Agriculture is a cornerstone of our state's economy. We also value the health of our rivers, lakes and streams. We believe this collaborative, historic program presents enormous opportunities to achieve measurable water quality outcomes," said Wohlman. "We look forward to working with producers in these watersheds to demonstrate to the public that farmers care about our water quality and are committed to adopting conservation practices."

Watershed areas across the state were invited to apply to participate in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification pilot program. This was a competitive process and interest was high with more than a dozen groups submitting applications.

The four watersheds selected are the Whitewater River Watershed located in parts of Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona Counties; the Middle Sauk River Watershed which covers more than fifty percent of Stearns County; the Elm Creek Watershed located in south central Minnesota in parts of Jackson, Martin, and Faribault counties; and, the Whiskey Creek Watershed in northwestern Minnesota's Wilkin and western Otter Tail counties.

The Minnesota legislature appropriated $3 million in Clean Water Legacy funding to launch this program. These funds will leverage $6.5 million in federal funding previously announced by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack.

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