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NRCS Helps Clay County Restore Creek after Tornadoes

ClayCountyEWPBack-to-back years of tornadoes in Clay County, Miss. have left their scars, leaving a web of creeks and streams jammed with downed trees and branches and frequently flooded land.

Line Creek consistently overflows its banks, crippling forest ecosystem health and damaging grazing lands.

But USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has teamed up with private landowners and county officials to remove downed trees and other debris and restore Line Creek and a few other waterways to their natural state.

The Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program has trickled almost $1 million to Clay County to fund improvements, a venture that landowners say is crucial to their lands.

“This will cut down on flooding and restore natural hydrology,” said Paul Vickers, a forest landowner and rancher along the creek.

Years of logs floating down Line Creek cause it to frequently flood. The presence of water weakens trees’ root systems, making them more prone to fall, especially during storms, such as the tornadoes that passed through the land. These storms knocked down more trees, exacerbating the problem.

“We’ve noticed for the past seven to 10 years that timber has been dying,” said Dean Stewart, a consulting land manager for the Winters Foundation, a nonprofit that owns 6,000 acres in the Line Creek watershed.

Added Vickers: “It’s been an ongoing battle to find out how to get this blockage moved.”

Debris will be removed from a 2.5-mile stretch of the creek. The project is steered by John Calvin Boyd, a soil conservation technician with NRCS.

“When a creek gets clogged up, it makes a new channel and causes erosion,” Boyd said. “It’s not a problem that fixes itself.”

The high water in Line Creek has caused millions of dollars in damage to the timber on the lands of the Winters Foundation and Vickers. It is impacting at least 3,500 acres, and if it’s not repaired, more damage will occur.

EWP funds are allocated following a Presidential Disaster Declaration. In fiscal 2012, about $2 million were set aside for projects in Mississippi, including these in Clay County.