LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that $33 million in assistance will be provided to farmers and ranchers to make conservation improvements that will improve water quality in 174 watersheds, according to a press release.

The announcement was made on the secretary's behalf by Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ann Mills during a Hypoxia Task Force meeting, held recently in Little Rock, Ark., noted the release.

"This targeted approach provides a way to accelerate voluntary, private lands conservation investments to improve water quality and to focus water quality monitoring and assessment funds where they are most needed," Mills said. "When hundreds of farms take action in one area, one watershed, it can make a real difference to improving water quality."

Funding is provided through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the release reported. 

According to the release, now in its third year, NWQI expanded to include more small watersheds across the nation, and it builds on efforts to target high-impact conservation in areas such as the Mississippi River basin, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes.