LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas officials are distributing about $1.4 million appropriated to improve the Illinois River more than a decade ago to applicants who want to implement practices to keep the river clean.
The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission will give the funding to the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, a nonprofit in Cave Springs dedicated to improving the river’s water quality.
The river has been degraded for decades because of excess phosphorus often blamed on poultry farming and the use of poultry litter as fertilizer in northwestern Arkansas. Officials in Arkansas and Oklahoma are still negotiating over the river’s standard for phosphorus levels.
Commission Deputy Director Ryan Benefield told reporters that the nonprofit will allocate the grants to applicants for projects such as fencing off streams from cattle, prescribed grazing, and stream habitat improvements. Farmers will have to match funding by about 25 percent.
The grant money will be focused in areas with low to no erosion since restoring eroded stream banks isn’t as cost-effective for the funding amount, said Nicole Hardiman, the partnership’s executive director.
The nonprofit aims to restore 20 miles (32 kilometers) of land along the river.
“We’re really excited for the opportunity to partner with ANRC and the state,” Hardiman said. “And we’re happy the state’s investing this money in the Illinois River watershed.”
The partnership hopes to begin accepting applications in November, she said.
The commission originally received $1.5 million from the Arkansas Legislature in 2007. The money was intended for a federal conservation program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. The program pays farmers rent to remove environmentally sensitive land from production, according to the agency.
But the state commission couldn’t find enough applicants for the federal program, spending only about $100,000 of the allocated money. Commissioners decided this year to use the rest of the funding for the state program.