The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced an investment of up to $235 million to improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. The funding is being made available through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), the newest conservation tool of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

RCPP, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, empowers local leaders to work with multiple partners—such as private companies, local and tribal governments, universities, non-profit groups and other non-government partners—along with farmers and forest landowners to design solutions that work best for their region. Local partners and the federal government both invest funding and manpower to projects to maximize their impact. This will be the second round of projects funded through RCPP. The RCPP program helps USDA build on already-record enrollment in conservation programs, with over 500,000 producers participating to protect land and water on over 400 million acres nationwide.

USDA is now accepting proposals for RCPP. Pre-proposals are due July 8. For more information on applying, visit the RCPP website.

“This is a new, innovative approach to conservation,” said Christine Clarke, NRCS Massachusetts State Conservationist. “This initiative allows local partners the opportunity to design and invest in conservation projects specifically tailored for their communities. These public-private partnerships can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism, and other industries.”

In January, USDA announced $394 million in awards in the first round of RCPP applications (which represented two years’ worth of funding for fiscal years 2014 and 2015) for 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

One of those projects, the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Sustainable Forestry and Energy project in Massachusetts, will integrate sustainable forestry and energy practices to support the rural economy in the 20 towns in the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership region of western Mass., the commonwealth’s most forested, rural and low income area. The Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will lead the project. NRCS is providing nearly $700,000 in RCPP funding, which will leverage another $1 million in contributions from state and private partners.