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VOLUNTEER PRECIPITATION OBSERVERS INVITED TO JOIN THE COMMUNITY COLLABORATIVE RAIN, HAIL AND SNOW NETWORK

Harry Hillaker, State Climatologist for Iowa | 3/4/2015

DES MOINES – The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s State Climatology Office and the National Weather Service are recruiting volunteer precipitation observers across Iowa to participate in the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow network, known as “CoCoRaHS.”

All that is needed to participate is an interest in the weather, a four inch diameter rain gage, a suitable location to set up the gage and access to the internet.  All data collected are immediately available for free online and are routinely used for flood forecasting, drought assessment, news media stories, scientific research and general weather interest.

More information about the network is available on the CoCoRaHS web site at www.cocorahs.org. The website includes information on how to join, where to purchase your rain gage and how to accurately measure and report rain and snow. 

The network was established by the Colorado Climate Center in 1998 and has now spread to all fifty states and Canada.  Iowa joined this volunteer network in 2007 and now has over 300 registered CoCoRaHS observers across the state.  However, more observers are needed to better document the amount and variability of rain and snow across Iowa.   The need for additional observers is particularly critical in the following counties: Adams, Allamakee, Audubon, Calhoun, Cedar, Davis, Delaware, Jefferson, Keokuk, Louisa, Lucas, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Van Buren, Wapello, Wayne and Wright.

“In 2014 Iowa experienced a mostly wet year with record flooding in far northwest Iowa in June along with record high annual precipitation totals set at Denison and Greenfield, allowing current soil moisture levels to be the highest they have been for this time of year since 2011,” said Harry Hillaker, State Climatologist for Iowa.   “Whatever comes our way in 2015, the weather observations obtained by this network can be of great benefit in obtaining a clearer picture of Iowa’s weather.”

 

SEVEN WATERSHEDS TO RECEIVE GRANTS FROM WATERSHED IMPROVEMENT REVIEW BOARD

Watershed Improvement Review Board | 1/30/2015

DES MOINES – The Watershed Improvement Review Board has approved seven new applications totaling $1,003,091 in grants to support projects that will improve water quality in the state.

The grant funds will be matched by recipients, who will provide $2,490,115 in funding from local partners to support these projects.  As a result, $3,493,206 will be invested to support water quality improvements in watersheds throughout Iowa.

Watershed Improvement Fund projects are built on a partnership between federal, state and local organizations, with a focus on improving water quality.  These projects will address runoff and drainage, sedimentation, urban stormwater, livestock runoff, shoreline stabilization and a number of other issues that directly impact the state’s waterways and water quality.

The approved projects have already completed watershed assessments that identify critical water resource concerns and will focus on implementing specific water quality improvements.

Approved projects will begin after a grant agreement is signed between the applicant and the Watershed Improvement Review Board.  Soil and water conservation districts, public water supply utilities, counties, county conservation boards, cities, and local watershed improvement committees were eligible to apply for funding, and individual projects could request up to $250,000 from the program.

Funding for these projects was made available from the Watershed Improvement Fund using unspent funds from completed projects, interest earned on program accounts and other sources.

The Watershed Improvement Review Board is comprised of representatives from agriculture, drinking water and wastewater utilities, environmental organizations, agribusiness, and the conservation community along with two state senators and two state representatives.

To receive more information or ask questions, contact Jerry Neppel at 515-281-3599.

A complete list of approved applications is as follows: 

Watershed Name

Organization

County(ies)

Grant Amount

Little Bear Creek Watershed

Poweshiek Soil and Water Conservation District

Poweshiek

$109,736

Fox River Watershed

Davis Soil and Water Conservation District

Davis, Appanoose

$130,000

Waubonsie Creek Watershed

Mills Soil and Water Conservation District

Mills, Fremont

$250,000

Twelve Mile Creek Lake Watershed

Union Soil and Water Conservation District

Union, Adair

$143,145

Cooper Creek Watershed

Appanoose Soil and Water Conservation District

Appanoose, Wayne

$241,000

Lake LaVerne Watershed

Story Soil and Water Conservation District

Story

$45,210

Iowa Great Lakes Watershed

Dickinson Soil and Water Conservation District

Dickinson

$84,000

 

 

Cedar Rapids-led Project Receives USDA Funding to Improve Watershed

City of Cedar Rapids Press Release | 1/16/2015 

As of October 1, 2013, the following interest rates apply to new USDA-RD utility loans:

Poverty: 2.75%
Intermediate: 3.75%
Market: 4.625

CEDAR RAPIDS – Cedar Rapids City leaders held a news conference today to announce the launching of a $4.3 million project focused on improving water quality, water quantity and soil health in the Cedar River Watershed. The project will be possible thanks to funding from the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This is one of 100 projects across all 50 states to receive more than $370 million as part of the new program. 

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, and Utilities Director Steve Hershner, joined Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Marty Adkins, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to celebrate the important achievement and emphasize the need for this effort.  

See full press release here

See video of Mayor Ron Corbett 

 

USDA Selects Two Water Quality Focused Projects for New, Innovative Conservation Program

Joint News Release, USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) & Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship | 1/14/2015

DES MOINES - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that more than 100 high-impact projects across all 50 states, including Iowa, will receive more than $370 million as part of the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). 

 RCPP’s historic focus on public-private partnership enables private companies, local communities and other non-government partners a way to invest in efforts to keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries.

See full press release here

 

Northey to hold public meetings in Calhoun, Sac and Buena Vista Counties on Jan. 20 and 21

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Press Release | 1/14/2015

 Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today announced that he will be visiting the three Northwest Iowa counties subject of a potential lawsuit by Des Moines Water Works on Tuesday, Jan. 20 and Wednesday, Jan. 21.  During the visits Northey will visit with community leaders and highlight the significant investment made by farmers in these counties to protect water quality.

“Iowa farmers have invested millions of dollars of their own money to help improve water quality.  We need to build on this momentum and work together.  Sensationalized rhetoric and threats of litigation are not the answer to help us achieve our joint goals of improved water quality in Iowa,” Northey said.

See full press release here 

 

Northey Praises Governor for Strong Support of Water Quality in Budget Proposal

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Press Release | 1/13/2015

DES MOINES - Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today thanked Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds for including $7.5 million for the Water Quality Initiative in their budget proposal.  This proposal continues their strong support for a voluntary, science-based approach to improving water quality, building on the $2.4 million and $4.4 million received from the general fund in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to support water quality.

“The Governor’s strong support for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative has been critically important and the $7.5 million provided in his budget would help us build on that exciting progress that has already been made,” Northey said.  “The legislature has also been extremely supportive of voluntary, science based water quality efforts and I look forward to working with legislators on a bipartisan basis in both the House and Senate on this budget request as we go through the appropriations process.”

See full press release here

 

Cover Crop Research and Demonstrations in Iowa (list and contact info)

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Press Release | 1/13/2015

Cover crops are seeing a surge in popularity as farmers continue efforts to improve water quality and soil health on their farms.  A recent survey found that one in four Iowa farmers are using cover crops today. Researchers, non-governmental groups (NGOs), and farmers are leading these efforts on investigating, learning, and publicizing the proper management techniques and considerations for using cover crops in Iowa.
  
These groups are in no small part responsible for much of the buzz and interest generated in recent years around cover crops.  Their research and demonstration activities have led to invaluable information to help provide better understanding on proper management and other considerations to making cover crops work in farms across Iowa. 

See full list here 

 

Desirae Willms - New USDA-RD Community Programs Specialist

(Added 1/12/2015)

Desirae Willms will be starting today as USDA-RD Iowa state office's new Community Programs Specialist. Desirae has been with the Agency since 2010 in the Le Mars office and has experience in both Community Programs and Housing Programs. She was also the City Clerk of Akron, Iowa prior to
joining the Agency. Congratulations Desirae on your new position at USDA-RD!

Rural Developments in Iowa  

USDA Rural Development Funding in Rural Iowa Tops $400 Million in 2014

USDA Rural Development | January 8, 2015

In 2014 more than $400 million in USDA Rural Development loans and grants were invested all across rural Iowa to assist with housing opportunities for families, create jobs and help communities improve essential public facilities and services.

Here are some highlights from the year:

Program Information 

Revolving Loan Fund Workshops January 12 - 30

USDA Rural Development staff will be presenting nine workshops from January 12 – 30 to help rural community leaders establish, manage and market revolving loan funds.  Visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/STELPRD4025074.html for workshop dates, locations and RSVP information. Workshops will be held in Creston, Algona, Mount Pleasant, Postville, Orange City, Oskaloosa, Carroll, Hiawatha and Iowa Falls.

Revolving loan funds are established through a variety of USDA loan and grant programs and are a great way to assist with small business development in rural Iowa. Funds are made available to intermediaries which are typically rural electric cooperatives, regional council of governments or local economic development groups. The intermediaries make loans to small businesses and as the loans are paid back, the money is then re-loaned to other businesses.

USDA Rural Development provides funding to various revolving loan fund administrators through its Intermediary Relending Program, Rural Business Enterprise Grants and Rural Economic Development Grants. Last year more than $2.3 million in loans and grants were provided to rural organizations to help establish revolving funds.  

Since 2009 more than 700 rural small businesses accessed more than $70 million from the 145 revolving loan funds assisted by USDA Rural Development in Iowa. These loans helped rural small businesses in a variety of ways including the purchase of equipment, real estate and expansions.

Charles City Area Development and Habitat for Humanity of Marion County Receive Housing Preservation Grants 

Charles City Area Development and Habitat for Humanity of Marion County were recently each awarded $20,870 in USDA Rural Development Housing Preservation Grants to assist qualifying rural Iowans in making needed home repairs.

Charles City Area Development is using its grant to help very low and low-income residents in Charles City and Floyd County replace old and unreliable furnaces. Habitat for Humanity of Marion County in Knoxville is helping qualified local residents make needed home repairs.

USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program provides financing to intermediaries such as local governments and public agencies. These recipients distribute the grants to homeowners and owners of multi-family rental properties or cooperative dwellings who rent to low and very-low-income residents. Funds are not provided directly to homeowners.

New Community Eligibility Maps for USDA's Home Loan Programs Effective February 2nd  

Effective February 2nd, 2015, the City of North Liberty no longer meets the definition of “rural” for the purposes of USDA’s Rural Housing programs.

All other rural Iowa communities that were eligible for USDA Rural Development home loans will remain eligible after February 2nd. Here is a link to determine which Iowa communities remain eligible. http://eligibility.sc.egov.usda.gov/eligibility/welcomeAction.do

Renovation and Expansion Project at Clarke County Public Hospital in Osceola Using USDA Rural Development Funds

Last month USDA Rural Development State Director Bill Menner visited Clarke County Public Hospital in Osceola to learn more about renovation and expansion plans to the facility that will improve healthcare options for thousands of rural Iowans.

In 2014, USDA Rural Development awarded a $2 million Rural Economic Development Loan to Clarke Electric Cooperative and a $300,000 Rural Economic Development Grant to Central Iowa Power Cooperative. The electric cooperatives, in turn, loaned the funds to the hospital to assist with the estimated $17 million renovation and expansion project.

“As Iowa’s population continues to age the need for improved healthcare services aimed at older Iowans is rising, especially in rural areas of the state,” Menner said. “It is very important that leaders in rural communities continually look for ways to improve the healthcare services that are offered in their community.” 

USDA Rural Development’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program provides funding to rural utility organizations to provide economic development opportunities in their service areas.

Clarke County Public Hospital is now entering the second phase of a multi-year renovation and expansion project. This phase includes a 42,500 square-foot addition and 8,000 square-foot renovation to include a primary physician’s clinic, diabetes education and wound care area, emergency department, computer lab and conference center.

The hospital has also made significant investments in its electronic health record system and use of new technology to provide safe, high-quality healthcare to patients.

More than $15 million in USDA Rural Development Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant funds were awarded in Iowa in 2014. These funds play an important role in creating new opportunities in rural Iowa.

Application and Deadline Information

Energy Grants and Loans Available for Ag Producers and Rural Businesses

Ag producers and rural small businesses can use USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for the purchase and installation of both renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for business purposes. 

The final REAP rules and official Notice of Solicitation of Application (NOSA) were published in the Federal Register on December 29 and can be found at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/12/29/2014-30133/rural-energy-for-america-program

Upcoming applications deadlines are February 12, 2015 and April 30, 2015.

Applications received will be scored and only the highest scoring applications will be funded.  It is very important to submit a good quality application. 

Grants can finance up to 25 percent of eligible project costs.  An application must be submitted prior to purchasing equipment. An environmental assessment, conducted by USDA, must be completed prior to starting the project.  Projects for residential purposes are not eligible. 

Applications received for this funding announcement that are not funded will be allowed to compete for funding to be announced later this year. 

For more information about REAP please visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/IA_bc_energy_reap.html.

Community Spotlight - Lamoni

City of Lamoni’s Leaders Planting Seeds to Grow Future Generations

State Director Menner recently visited with community leaders in Lamoni, a small community in Decatur County just five miles north of the Missouri border. State Director Menner took a few minutes to recap his visit.

As you approach Lamoni you get the immediate impression that this is no ordinary rural community.

Maybe it’s the combination Iowa welcome center/Amish country store/Maid-Rite loose meat sandwich shop at the Lamoni exit off Interstate 35 (exit 4 just north of the Missouri border). Or, it could be the presence of Graceland University students from 45 states and 26 countries, the impressive number of recently built single-family homes, or the history that seems to ooze from every corner of the community.

Whatever the reason, Lamoni is pretty special.

While in Lamoni I visited with city leaders about the possible expansion of the Lamoni Municipal Airport and other growth projects in the area. Local leaders, including former Congressman Leonard Boswell, say there’s a need to add more hangar space and extend the runway. They believe Lamoni could become a regional general aviation hub with the right infrastructure.

There are downtown developments underway and new businesses emerging. There is an ongoing wellness focus illustrated by residents who worked together to build a six-mile recreational trail that extends from one end of town to the other.

I’m very excited that USDA Rural Development financing programs can assist with many of these projects.

The community is in the enviable position of having thousands of vehicles pass by on the nearby interstate.

Also, Lamoni’s deep historical roots add character most rural communities do not enjoy as Joseph Smith III, the eldest son of the founder of the Mormon Church, in 1870 selected the community as the home for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), known today as Community of Christ. Smith set up RLDS Church headquarters, founded Graceland College, and built Liberty Hall as his home (now a museum).  Lamoni remained RLDS’ headquarters until 1920 when it was transferred to Independence, Missouri.

City leaders are also looking to the future as they plot Lamoni’s next steps. They know growth won’t come easily. There is a defined shortage of both public and private capital for business and community development. A master plan and blue print is in place to grow Lamoni’s current 2,300 population. Implementing that task is a huge undertaking, but Lamoni leaders say they’re up for it.

There are also some smaller, yet no less important, tasks in the works. A new hotel would enhance the tourism business. While these can be difficult to finance in a rural community, it is on the drawing board and there is even a prospective chain considering a location just off I-35 exit 4.

There is land west of the interstate that could be developed for commercial and industrial purposes. A local economic development organization is driving that work. And there is the long-range option of land east of the interstate for future development. That would require annexation, the extension of utilities and a lot of work. But it’s an appropriate topic of conversation and the far-sighted city leaders are doing that just.

There is much to be said for rural communities with engaged citizens, strong leaders and a blueprint for action. Those pillars of community development can help overcome challenges like those many small towns in rural areas face. And while their community remains a “work-in-progress,” folks in Lamoni can be proud of the fact that they’re headed in the right direction!

 

 

USDA, Partners Usher in a New Era in Conservation

New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts

Natural Resources
Conservation Service

RM 693 Federal Building
210 Walnut Street
Des Moines, IA 50309
Voice 515-284-6655
Email: larry.beeler@ia.usda.gov
Web: http://www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov

For Immediate Release ­

DES MOINES, IA, May 27, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the launch of what he calls “a new era in American conservation efforts” with an historic focus on public-private partnership.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” Vilsack said. “We’re giving private companies, local communities and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations.”

Pre-proposals for this new conservation program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), are due July 14.  Final proposals are due Sept. 26. RCPP was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and streamlines conservation efforts by combining four programs (the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion) into one.

The RCPP funding announcement can be found at: http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=256049.

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

“Local decision making is empowered through this program–bringing together conservation groups, cities and townships, sportsmen groups, universities, agricultural associations and others – to design conservation projects that are tailored to our needs here in Iowa,” said Jay Mar, NRCS state conservationist in Iowa.

With the investment of participating partners, USDA’s $1.2 billion will leverage $2.4 billion for conservation over the life of the five-year program.

The RCPP has three funding pools:

For more information about Iowa’s RCPP information go to www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov.
To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.

Contact:
Larry Beeler, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, 515-284-4353
Larry.Beeler@ia.usda.gov