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Published April 21, 2011, 10:26 AM

Wetlands initiative aimed at valley flood control

The Red River Valley is getting more money in a federal program partly designed to fight flooding, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The Red River Valley is getting more money in a federal program partly designed to fight flooding, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says.

As much as $10 million more will be available to help eligible landowners in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota through a wetlands program that seeks to reduce flooding and enhance wildlife, Vilsack says.

He made his comments in a telephone interview with Agweek last week.

“You’ve obviously been experiencing some terrible flooding for many, many years. We think we can be of some assistance,” he says.

The voluntary Wetlands Reserve Program helps farmers and other landowners protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical and financial support to the landowners.

The initiative announced last week will allow North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota to accept new applications for the program and fund more easements in the Red River Valley Watershed.

It’s expected that about 12,000 acres can be restored to wetlands through money in the new initiative, Vilsack says

The initiative will begin this year and be spread over five years, with its benefits kicking in as soon as 2012, he says

Of the $10 million, roughly $5.4 million is allocated to Minnesota, $2.7 million to North Dakota and $1.85 million to South Dakota, he says

The additional money is above and beyond the amount that otherwise would be available through the Wetlands Reserve Program in the three states, he sys

Currently, funding exists for enrollment of about 100,000 acres in Minnesota, 80,000 acres in North Dakota and 50,000 acres in South Dakota, Vilsack says.

He’s not certain of the dollar amount involved.

By reducing flooding, the initiative will cut spending by local and state governments to repair damaged roads, bridges and public areas, USDA says in a news release.

“That’s the goal,” Vilsack says

The Wetlands Reserve Program has been popular in North Dakota and Minnesota the past few years, a direct result of extensive flooding in the two states, he says

In 2009, Minnesota had 150 contracts totaling 21,678 acres enroll in the program, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.

That was the highest number of contracts in the nation that year, according to the website.

That same year, North Dakota had 109 contracts totaling 24,726 acres enroll in the program, the website says.

That was the most acres of any state in 2009, the website says.

At the end of 2008, Minnesota had 87,151 acres enrolled in the program. North Dakota had 37.872 acres enrolled, according to the website.

Louisiana led the nation in total acres at the end of 2008, with 221,449 acres enrolled. Arkansas was second with 207,117 acres enrolled.

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