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Wetlands Reserve Program Initiative Takes Aim at Red River Valley Flooding

posted on April 21, 2011

FARGO, N.D. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making up to $10 million available to enroll more land in the flood-prone Red River Valley watershed into its Wetlands Reserve Program.

The goal is to reduce flooding while at the same restore wetlands and enhance wildlife habitat, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. The special initiative will enroll land in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Residents of the valley are in the middle of another major spring flood battle, with cities building barriers against the rising river and rural areas dealing with land and roads swamped by overland floodwaters. Moderate-to-severe flooding happens every year, and Vilsack said expanding the wetlands acres will help retain and slow floodwaters in future years.

The region has "obviously been experiencing some terrible flooding for many, many years. We think we can be of some assistance," Vilsack told Agweek.

The $10 million is enough to restore about 12,000 acres to wetlands. The money will be spread over five years, with about half allocated to land in Minnesota and the rest to the Dakotas. Before the initiative, funding existed to enroll about 100,000 acres in Minnesota, 80,000 acres in North Dakota and 50,000 acres in South Dakota.

USDA said in a statement that the program will help taxpayers in the long run because it will reduce spending by local and state governments on such things as road and bridge repairs, and cut down on flood-related disaster and crop insurance payments to farmers.

Vilsack told Agweek that the Wetlands Reserve Program has been popular in North Dakota and Minnesota in recent years because of the extensive flooding. In 2009, Minnesota had the highest number of contracts in the nation at 150 and North Dakota had the most acres of any state at about 25,000, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Tags: conservation floods news rivers wetlands