A new federal conservation program boosted efforts to clean Dane County’s lakes Wednesday with a grant of $1.6 million for projects that will reduce phosphorous and sediment loads from neighboring farms and streams.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the grant money will help fuel a “historic opportunity” to clean up the Yahara Watershed, which encompasses land where all the water on or under it drains into the area’s chain of lakes.

“We know what we need to do to clean up the lakes. When we can get the resources to implement the projects to get it done, that’s a big deal,” Parisi said.

The grant money will be added to $2.4 million in matching funds that is part of the 2015 Dane County budget for a lake cleanup project called “Yahara Clean, said Parisi’s chief of staff, Josh Wescott.

Much of the funding will be geared for the county and five other project partners to work with farmers and others in agriculture to control manure run-off that is the biggest cause of high phosphorous counts in area lakes, Wescott said.

“This project will allow us to do more projects that we were hoping to do. This is really a big win,” Wescott added.

The grant was one of 115 awarded for projects in all 50 states and Puerto Rico by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. A product of the new Farm Bill, the program focuses on partnering private and public entities to protect and improve the country’s natural resources.

More than 600 groups submitted proposals, said state conservationist Jimmy Bramblett. Other state projects approved for funding include a Baraboo River Watershed program in Sauk County, an Oconomowoc River Watershed program and a multi-state forest management project to help save threatened and endangered bird species.

In its summaries of the projects that earned grants, the RCPP lauded the Yahara Watershed project for its diverse coalition of partners, including farmers, that will implement an innovative cleanup plan. The proposal was written by Kevin Connors, the director of the Dane County Land and Water Resources Department, which is listed as the project’s lead partner.

The project will include simple ideas, such as the county sharing the cost of building more manure storage facilities that multiple farms can use, and roofs over pastures that will keep the rain from moving manure into nearby streams.

“The challenge is a bold one, but the solutions can be fairly elementary,” Wescott said.

Other project partners include the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District, Clean Lakes Alliance, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, Yahara WINS and UW-Madison’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

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Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.