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Targeted conservation funding of up to $50 million will be available over the next five years in the Red River Basin to minimize flooding, boost soil health, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat in the watershed. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Rep. Collin Peterson; Senators Amy Klobuchar, John Hoeven, and Heidi Heitkamp; and Representative Kevin Cramer made the announcement at a press conference in Moorhead on July 2. Members of the Red River Retention Authority (RRRA), local water board members from the two states, and local commodity and farm groups were also on hand.

“The Red River Basin is a mosaic of farmlands, grasslands, forests, and wetlands with a unique set of conservation challenges. 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.”

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 http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA service center.

The announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

“Secretary Vilsack’s visit today is important because he can see firsthand the flood challenges we face and the need for the USDA to help build upstream flood protection, which is an important element of comprehensive flood protection for the Valley,” Hoeven said. “We worked to include in the new farm bill, RCPP, EQIP and other programs that can hold back water and help us to protect communities at risk. We’re grateful to Secretary Vilsack for being here today and we urge him to provide the necessary flexibility to make these programs workable for our farmers, water boards and the Red River Retention Authority.”

“We look for support from each and every watershed district, along with each and every landowner, to look for water retention projects and an opportunity that has never been here before,” said Rodger Olson, Diversion Authority member.

“I would hope it can reduce the impacts that this project is creating. People lose track of the fact that we’re always trying to do that,” said Kevin Campbell, Diversion Authority member. “This is an excellent source that can help.”

It’s expected that the conservation funding can also help the Diversion Authority leverage the $25 million it has pledged for retention projects in the region.

The announcement on July 2 follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture designation of the Prairie Grasslands, which includes the Red River Valley, a critical conservation area under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The designation will make resources available for upstream flood protection efforts in the Red River Valley. The RCPP combines four existing programs into one streamlined, efficient program that fosters public-private partnerships.

The Critical Conservation Area designation will bring benefits to the Red River by strategically conserving water that would otherwise increase the flood threat in Fargo-Moorhead, Grand Forks and other communities along the Red River. Under the designation, people in the Valley can access these funds – up to $1.2 billion over five years – $400 million of which in the next two years.

In March, members of the North Dakota and Minnesota delegations sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack to request the department’s support for naming the Red River of the North Watershed Basin as a Critical Conservation Area (CCA) under RCPP. The letter noted that the Red River Valley has some of the country’s most productive farmland, but has been impacted by flooding since the basin was settled. The letter noted that RCPP can address a number of conservation efforts impacting the Red River Valley, including addressing flood reduction, creating permanent and seasonal wetlands and water storage, benefiting wildlife habitat and retraining water on agricultural lands.

The RCPP will award funds on a competitive basis for conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments are considered eligible partners to join with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest in conservation programs.