"The Red River Basin is a mosaic of farmlands, grasslands, forests, and wetlands with a unique set of conservation challenges,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Wednesday he was joined by other Congressional members from the area to announce funding of up to $50 million over the next five years in the Red River of the North Basin to minimize flooding, boost soil health, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat in the watershed.
The Secretary was joined by Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Sen. John Hoeven (R, N.D.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) at a press conference in Moorhead to make the announcement.
"This Farm Bill funding will help us work with local partners to implement water retention projects to help reduce flooding and mitigate the damage repeated flooding creates," Vilsack said. "Along with better protection from flooding, these conservation efforts can help provide improved farming and ranching opportunities, cleaner water, and homes for a variety of wildlife. This will help boost the region's economy in a number of areas, including in agriculture, hunting and fishing, and other outdoor recreation."
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will focus a number of existing conservation program tools to work with local water districts and other local partners to support water retention projects and other conservation efforts in the 25 million-acre Red River watershed in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The Red River of the North Basin is highly prone to flooding and other challenges, and repeated flooding has created unique challenges for maintaining soil and water health in the region. This new effort will provide more support and additional flexibility for regional conservation stakeholders.
"We are using the full set of tools in the conservation toolbox to affect positive change in this area," Vilsack added. "Our science-based conservation programs have a proven track record of supporting agricultural business, rural economies and improving sustainability across the county."
The NRCS conservation programs that will be focused on this effort to address needs in the Red River Basin of the North include:
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program: Assistance to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, or improved or created wildlife habitat.
- Conservation Stewardship Program: Assistance to maintain and improve existing conservation systems, adopt additional conservation activities, and take conservation performance to the next level.
- Agricultural Conservation Easements Program: Assistance to help conserve, enhance, and protect farm, ranch, and forest lands and wetlands, and their related benefits. For wetland easements on acreage owned by Indian tribes, 30-year contracts are available.
Applications for these programs are accepted at local USDA service centers on a continuous basis. To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.
The Red River of the North Basin is home to some of the country's most productive farmland, and is also part of the nation's Prairie Pothole region, known for its critical habitat for nesting waterfowl and other migratory birds.
Recently, USDA also announced that the basin was included as part of the Prairie Grasslands Critical Conservation Area under USDA's new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP will allow USDA to partner with third parties or work directly with producers in watersheds and other critical conservation areas to leverage private sector funding to maximize conservation investments.