U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the selections for its first national sign-up for floodplain easements through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The easements will cover more the 36,000 acres of land in 36 states. There was tremendous interest in the program, with more than 4,200 applications, totaling over $1.4 billion for 479,000 acres of flood-prone land nationwide.
"Even with the tremendous national competition for funds, Wisconsin will receive $19.7 million to accept easement offers from 23 of the 254 total applicants," said Pat Leavenworth, State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Wisconsin. "That will involve 4,040 acres being restored to floodplain." Wisconsin had 254 applications from landowners for 14,707 acres to be put into easement during the signup, which ended April 10.
The new easements in Wisconsin are in clusters along the Sugar River in Rock and Green Counties, the Pecatonica River in Lafayette County, the Baraboo River in Columbia County, and the Kickapoo River in Vernon County. All these rivers have had significant flooding in recent years.
The easements will be acquired over the coming year and restored to a natural state while creating jobs in rural areas.
Restoring these lands to a natural state offers both environmental and economic benefits. Natural floodplains help reduce off-site damages from floods by storing water. They also provide excellent wildlife habitat, and reduce soil erosion to the river. When cropland fields are flooded, tons of soil, fertilizer and chemicals are washed into the river and add to the sediment load and hypoxia in the rivers and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. But, as a restored floodplain covered with natural vegetation, the amount of sediment and chemical loading in the river system is reduced.
All of the proposed easements in Wisconsin are mainly cropland fields along increasingly flood-prone rivers. As these fields will no longer be cropped, they will no longer suffer damages and receive crop insurance or disaster payments.
In addition, applications were given priority if they supported habitat for threatened or endangered species, and if they were in geographic proximity to each other and to other protected wildlife areas to create a wildlife corridor and for greater flood holding capacity.
Offers to landowners will be made in June, 2009. Restoration work will begin this year, after the land is surveyed and the easement, which is permanent, is legally attached to the deed. Restoration may involve filling ditches and removing dikes, breaking tiles, or in many cases simply seeding and planting native vegetation or trees. Under the easement, the landowner retains ownership, private access and continues to pay property taxes, but the land must remain a floodplain with no alterations or buildings that would impede that function or result in damages.
The USDA Emergency Watershed Protection Program allows NRCS to acquire permanent easements on private land or land owned by units of state and local governments that have been damaged by flooding at least once in the last 12 months or twice in the past 10 years. Once the easements have been established, NRCS will pay 100 percent of the conservation work to restore the land to its natural state.
For information about USDA's floodplain easements, please visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ewp/Floodplain/index.html.