The Red River, the imperiled golden-winged warbler and environmentally minded Minnesota farmers all will benefit from $26 million in new federal funding designed to boost conservation and clean up agricultural water pollution in the state.

The three projects, which all must provide significant matching funds from other sources over the next five years, are part of a revamped $370 million program announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's conservation arm.

Calling it a "new era of conservation," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the 115 "high impact" projects across 50 states represent the latest strategies in how to protect water quality and wildlife. It is the first time the agriculture department has joined forces with state and local governments and other groups to increase the scope and financing for projects designed to protect the environment.

"These partnerships are forging a new path for getting conservation on the ground and are providing opportunities for communities to have a voice and ownership in protecting and improving our natural resources," Vilsack said.

In Minnesota, the largest grant — $12 million — will go to flood prevention projects in the Red River Valley. Nearly 30 federal, state and local government agencies will work to build water retention systems and ponds on agricultural lands that will work to slow the flow of water into the river while also reducing phosphorus and nitrogen pollution levels. The Red River is a major source of nutrient contamination in Canada's Lake Winnipeg. Once completed, six to eight different sites will store approximately 50,000 acre-feet of floodwater.

It is small piece of a $1.8 billion diversion and flood control project underway to protect Fargo, N.D., and other towns along the river, and it will need a total of $21 million over the next five years.

Minnesota's three-year-old Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program for farmers was awarded $9 million to expand statewide. It provides farmers with expert help and financial assistance in adopting ways to stop soil erosion and water pollution. That could include things like new drainage systems and other water management tactics to prevent runoff. The total cost for the next five years will be $21 million. State agriculture officials said they expect to get the remaining funds by tapping the state's Legacy funds.

The American Bird Conservancy, a national conservation group, and three states joined forces to protect the golden-winged warbler by improving forest habitat on 64,000 acres around the Great Lakes.

The bird has suffered one of the steepest population declines of any songbird species, primarily because of the disappearance of young forests, its preferred habitat.

"Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have the largest remaining breeding population, and habitat management actions there are considered critical to rebuilding populations rapidly," said Dr. George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy.

The project will cost a total of $10 million, and Minnesota has contributed some of it through Legacy funds.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394