The Red River basin spans 25 million acres and is home to a patchwork of prairies and wetlands. It’s part of the Prairie Pothole Region, and serves as a critical migratory wildlife pathway. But severe flooding over the past 20 years continues to threaten this landscape, decreasing habitat and negatively impacting water quality.
Higher than normal rainfall coupled with rapid snow melts has caused serious erosion, adversely affecting water quality in the area, while out-of-bank, rapidly moving flood water destroys habitat, threatens property and crucial ecosystems. Complicating the issue is the varying topographies of the region, which range from extremely flat, glacial lake plains and valleys to hilly beach ridges.
In 2011, NRCS launched the Red River Basin Initiative (RRBI), which covers parts of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, to reduce erosion, improve water quality and store water during flood events on private lands through voluntary conservation efforts.
How Does RRBI Work?
NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to help them implement a variety of conservation practices to address water quality and storage concerns. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) fund these efforts.
Unlike the other typical wetland restorations, some of the wetlands created through RRBI help to reduce flood damage within the basin by allowing additional flood water storage within the easement acres. Conservation practices are aimed at hydrologic restoration, flood mitigation, water quality improvement and increased and improved wildlife habitat.
How Does RRBI Benefit Producers?
Assistance from Farm Bill conservation programs helps improve water quality and reduce flooding while also helping farmers and landowners improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, reduce the delivery of nutrients and sediments to the lakes and their tributaries, make their agricultural operations more efficient, enable them to reduce input costs, employ innovative practices and make operations more resilient to climatic extremes.
How Does RRBI Benefit the Public?
When private landowners work to improve water quality and to store water, those efforts benefit communities downstream, especially in times of heavy rain and flooding.
Through RRBI, NRCS works with local, state and federal groups to develop strategies to focus conservation efforts in locally-identified and selected priority landscapes. NRCS is partnering with the Red River Retention Authority (RRRA), which has a goal to reduce flooding in the basin by 20 percent.
To achieve this goal, the RRRA is working with partners to create 1 million acre-feet of flood water retention in the basin over the next 20 years. NRCS has made a major commitment to help reach this goal by setting a goal of creating 250,000 acre feet of temporary flood storage through all of NRCS’ programs. The RRBI’s portion of the NRCS goal is to create 30,000 acre-feet of floodwater storage by the end of fiscal year 2018.