RENO - 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."

The new conservation program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and will benefit areas all across the nation. RCPP 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 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.

"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 Nevada," said Bruce Petersen, NRCS state conservationist in Nevada.

With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA's $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program will leverage $2.4 billion for conservation. 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.

"This is an example of government at its best - streamlining multiple programs into one more effective effort, providing flexible tools, and connecting local citizens and organizations with resources that best address their priorities, protect and improve their quality of life, and propel economic growth," Vilsack said.