Title 7

SECTION 1466.20

1466.20 Application for contracts and selecting applications.

§ 1466.20 Application for contracts and selecting applications.

(a) General guidelines. (1) Any producer who has eligible land may submit an application for participation in EQIP.

(2) NRCS, to the greatest extent practicable, will group applications of similar crop, forestry, and livestock operations for evaluation purposes.

(3) Applications may be accepted on a continuous basis throughout the year.

(4) Producers who are members of a joint operation may file a single application for ranking purposes for the joint operation.

(b) Ranking guidelines. In evaluating EQIP applications, NRCS -

(1) Will establish ranking pools to address a specific resource concern by geographic area or agricultural operation type with advice from the State Technical Committee, Tribal Conservation Advisory Council, or local working groups;

(2) Will develop an evaluation process using, where applicable, science-based tools to prioritize and rank applications for funding that considers national, State, and local priority resource concerns, taking into account the factors related to conservation benefits to address identified resource concerns through implementation of conservation practices such as:

(i) The degree of cost-effectiveness of the proposed conservation practices;

(ii) The magnitude of the expected conservation benefits resulting from the conservation treatment and the priority of the resource concerns that have been identified at the local, State, and national levels;

(iii) How effectively and comprehensively the project addresses the designated resource concern or resource concerns;

(iv) Use of conservation practices that provide long-term conservation enhancements;

(v) Compliance with Federal, State, Tribal, or local regulatory requirements concerning soil, water, and air quality; wildlife habitat; and ground and surface water conservation;

(vi) Willingness of the applicant to complete all conservation practices in an expedited manner;

(vii) The ability to improve existing conservation practices or systems which are in place at the time the application is accepted, or that complete a conservation system;

(viii) The applicant's meeting O&M requirements for the lifespan of conservation practices previously funded through EQIP; and

(xi) Other locally defined pertinent factors, such as the location of the conservation practice, the extent of natural resource degradation, and the degree of cooperation by local producers to achieve environmental improvements.

(3) May give priority for applications that include water conservation or irrigation-related practices, and consistent with State law in which the applicant's eligible land is located, if the application -

(i) Results in a reduction in water use in the agricultural operation, or

(ii) Includes an agreement by the applicant not to use any associated water savings to bring new land (other than incidental land needed for efficient operations) under irrigation production unless the producer is participating in a watershed-wide project that will effectively conserve water as designated under paragraph (c) of this section;

(4) May not assign a higher priority to the application solely because it would present the least cost to the program if determined that the conservation benefits of two or more applications for payments are comparable;

(5) Will ensure that the ranking score does not give preferential treatment to applications based on size of the operation, income generated from the operation, type of operation, or other factors not related to conservation benefits to address a resource concern unless authorized in this rule;

(6) Will determine through the evaluation process the order in which applications will be selected for funding; and

(7) Will make available to the public all information regarding priority resource concerns, the list of eligible practices, payment rates, and how EQIP is implemented in a State.

(c) Eligibility of certain water conservation projects. NRCS may designate as eligible watershed-wide projects that effectively conserve water, using the criteria in paragraphs (c)(1) through (3) of this section:

(1) The project area has a current, comprehensive water resource assessment; and

(2) The project plan incorporates one or more of the practices in paragraphs (c)(2)(i) through (iii) of this section:

(i) Water conservation scheduling, water distribution efficiency, soil moisture monitoring, or an appropriate combination thereof,

(ii) Irrigation-related structural or other measures that conserve surface or ground water, including managed aquifer recovery practices, or

(iii) A transition to water-conserving crops, water-conserving crop rotations, or deficit irrigation; and

(3) The project sponsors have consulted relevant State and local agencies.

(d) Administrative efficiency. (1) NRCS may use screening factors as part of its evaluation process that may include sorting applications into high, medium, or low priority.

(2) If screening factors are used to designate a higher priority for ranking, all eligible applications screened with a higher priority are ranked and considered for funding before ranking applications that are a lower priority.

(3) NRCS is the approving authority for all EQIP contracts.