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Ditching To Save Town Lands Farmers In Hot Water

Ditching To Save Town Lands Farmers In Hot Water

Canal that saved Claremont results in a complaint that farmers who participated drained protected wetlands.

About a dozen farmers around the tiny northeast South Dakota town of Claremont, S.D., fear they might lose farm program benefits because they participated in what they say was a township, county and Natural Resources conservation Service-approved drainage project to save their town.

The NRCS has apparently received a complaint that a ditch dug at the height of high water in 2011 has drained wetlands. The agency has sent letters to farmers saying the complaint will be investigated and if the farmers are found to be in violation, they could lose farm program benefits.

Flooding of rural roads, like this one near Devils Lake, N.D., also threatened the town of Claremont, S.D., in 2011. But three years after farmers dug a ditch to save their town, they are being investigated because NRCS received a complaint that they drained protected wetlands.

"We went to our local township, the Brown County Commission and the NRCS wetlands specialist Douglas Farrand to get permission for this canal," wrote Sherman Cutler, Claremont, in a letter to South Dakota Sen. John Thune. "We proceeded and drained excess water. We spent $35,000 from our personal account to save our house and our roads. Now, three years later, local NRCS water specialist Joe Murano says we drained wetlands and he sent all involved a letter stating we would be thrown out of the farm program for draining wetlands when our mission was to save our homes and the infrastructure. We already lost most of our roads and our town was next."

The NRCS state office did not respond to an email request for information about the case.

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