USDA will restore and protect flood-prone lands nationwide with economic recovery funding

 

NASHVILLE-Tennessee landowners have a chance of tapping into $145 Million set aside by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to restore thousands of acres of frequently flooded land to its natural state. The funds are available through the floodplain easement component of the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the funds will restore land and create jobs since the money is part of recently passed legislation aimed at revitalizing the economy.

Landowners can sign up for the easements through March 27, 2009 at their local USDA Service Center. “We will be working with landowners who voluntarily agree to restore the floodplains to their natural condition by placing their land into easements,” Vilsack said. “These easements will convert environmentally sensitive lands into riparian corridors and wooded bottomlands that are so vital for fish and wildlife habitat and to mitigate downstream flooding.” Vilsack said green jobs can be created in rural communities nationwide when landowners establish conservation practices on the easement land.

State Conservationist Kevin Brown, who directs the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Tennessee, says the job creation component of the measure benefits many fields of work. “Jobs will be created mostly in the land surveying, engineering, biology and construction fields when trees and native grasses are planted and the hydrology of the floodplain is restored,” Brown said. “Taxpayers will benefit from cleaner water and by no longer having to make crop disaster payments to producers who have experienced past crop failures due to flooding.”

The funding, obtained from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, includes both technical and financial assistance to restore the easements. All funds will be spent on targeted projects that can be completed with economic stimulus monies. The goal is to have all floodplain easements acquired and restored within 12-18 months. No more than $30 million can be spent in any one state.

Tennessee’s portion of the total $145 Million is not yet known. Brown says it depends on the level of interest among Tennessee landowners. “The dollars coming to Tennessee are contingent on the number of good applications we receive,” Brown said. “The more interest there is in Tennessee, the greater our portion of the $145 Million will be.”

The EWP Program’s floodplain easement component allows NRCS to purchase easements on lands damaged by flooding. The restored floodplain will generate many public benefits, such as increased flood protection, enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, improved water quality, and a reduced need for future public disaster assistance.  Other benefits include reduced energy consumption when certain agricultural activities and practices are eliminated and increased carbon sequestration as permanent vegetative cover is re-established.

Interested landowners can contact their local USDA Service Center for more information at 931-243-3321 in Celina or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ewp/Floodplain/index.html.