West Virginia University is among a network of collaborators awarded more than $1 million for three projects to help farmers and other business owners improve the states water quality while they conserve energy dollars.

The projects will receive Conservation Innovation Grants through the U.S. Department of Agricultures Natural Resources Conservation Service. The grants are dollar-for-dollar matches, bringing the projectstotal value to more than $2.3 million.

West Virginia NRCS specialists will work closely with WVU , private businesses and other members of the network as they develop and test projects to improve the Potomac Watershed and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.

A project to develop gasification of poultry litter to produce bio-energy for heat will receive $550,000. Coaltec Energy USA Inc. and Frye Poultry in Hardy County are collaborating on the project.

Tom Basden, nutrient management specialist with the WVU Extension Service, and Alan Collins, an agricultural economist with the Universitys Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences, will monitor the bio-energy data, develop and implement a transfer plan, and develop an economic evaluation of the technology.

An NRCS grant of $527,071 will help fund development and implementation of a water quality bank-and-trade program for the Potomac River watershed in West Virginia.

The project will introduce a pollutant-reduction trading program in West Virginia communities in the Potomac Valley. Credits will be earned for reducing polluted discharges. The credits can be traded among farmers, industrial facilities or public service districts.

Ultimately, the pollution credit trades are expected to create a net improvement in the Potomac River watersheds water quality and benefit local economies.

The water quality bank-and-trade collaboration is being led by Richard Herd of WVU s West Virginia Water Research Institute, a division of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy.

A $75,000 NRCS grant will help support the third projectto explore the use of biocontrol agents to manage invasive plants in pastures.

Rakesh Chandran, WVU Extension Service weed specialist, leads the research project into farmersuse of goats and sheepbiocontrol agentsto manage aggressive weeds. The strategy is expected to reduce dependence on pesticides and fossil fuel and convert weed biomass to marketable produce.

Working with NRCS specialists and WVU Extension faculty, Chandran and Basden will guide 30 West Virginia farmers in following a prescribed grazing system to improve brush management. At the end of the trials, the team will evaluate the economic differences between biocontrols and traditional chemical and mechanical controls. The group also will analyze the economic benefits of a goat and sheep marketing pool.

The funded projects mirror NRCS support of technology evaluation and implementation to improve water and air quality and to conserve land.

Through cooperative conservation, we can achieve productive lands and a healthy environment that contributes positively to the Chesapeake Bay,said Ronald L. Hilliard, the NRCS state conservationist in West Virginia.These projects exemplify cooperative conservation by promoting practical, innovative solutions to manage our natural resources.

More about Conservation Innovation Grants on the Net:www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/cig/

WVU conservation activities on the Net:www.wvu.edu/~agexten/orwww.nrcce.wvu.edu/