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Published July 03, 2014, 09:51 AM

$50 million announced to mitigate RRV flooding

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced July 2 that up to $50 million is available over five years to the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota to help mitigate flooding through a new regional conservation program.

By: Patrick Springer, Forum News Service

MOORHEAD, Minn. — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced July 2 that up to $50 million is available over five years to the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota to help mitigate flooding through a new regional conservation program.

The Red River Valley is recognized as a critical watershed because it is part of the Prairie Pothole region, an area designated under the new farm bill as eligible for funding to improve soil and water quality and enhance wildlife habitat.

Vilsack notes the flat terrain of the Red River Valley, and its tendency to flood, causing topsoil erosion and property damage.

“It begs for a specific solution,” Vilsack says, referring to the programs provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in partnership with state and local agencies.

Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, says the program comes with a great deal of flexibility, and can allow farming practices to continue on land involved in conservation projects when water conditions allow.

“We want to get to yes,” Vilsack says, vowing federal officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture want to cut through red tape. “We don’t want to simply say no.”

The regional conservation designation and funding were pushed by Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, and other members of the North Dakota and Minnesota congressional delegations in the farm bill debate.

Joining Vilsack and Peterson in the announcement were Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

Peterson says water projects already are in the pipeline for approval, including the Red Path retention project in Minnesota’s Bois de Sioux watershed, upstream of Fargo-Moorhead, and the planned Upper Maple River Dam in North Dakota.

“We are ahead of any other part of the country,” Peterson says, noting, as others did, that North Dakota and Minnesota are eligible for conservation funding available to any state, in addition to the funding targeted to the Red River Valley.

Peterson pointed to a map of the Red River Valley, with proposed retention projects shaded in orange to show the initiative’s potential. “But it’s going to be driven by locals,” he says.

Conservation programs available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service that can be tapped include:

•The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which can be used to improve water and air quality, conserve ground and surface water, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, or improve or create wildlife habitat.

•Conservation Stewardship Program, which helps to maintain and improve conservation systems and to adopt new conservation measures.

•Agricultural Conservation Easements Program, which can help conserve, enhance and protect agricultural and forest lands and wetlands; 30-year contracts are available.

Klobuchar notes the regional nature of flooding in the valley, and the need for regional solutions that are enabled under the regional conservation partnerships.

“I can tell you right now the water goes over those barriers,” she says, referring to obstacles to overcome, including bureaucratic red tape.

“Today is historic,” Hoeven says, noting the planning and cooperation that led to the designation. “This is about a regional approach.”

Projects can be as small as one section of land, or much larger, Vilsack says, adding, “We want to get started now.”

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