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Water Bank Program

The natural world, in addition to offering much splendor and beauty, can sometimes leave people feeling helpless due to its unpredictable nature. The Devils Lake Basin serves as an example of nature’s (sometimes) irregular and disparaging ways. Within the Basin, flooding has taken claim to some of the state’s more fertile landscape, leaving producers with fewer resources to maintain their small business operation and provide for their family.

In fiscal year (FY) 2012, Congress appropriated $7.5 million to fund a program designed to aid producers suffering from the effects of flooding. Through the Water Bank Program (WBP), NRCS offers assistance to eligible producers to keep water on their land for benefit of migratory wildlife such as waterfowl. WBP is an opportunity for people with flooding issues to maintain the conservation benefits of water and grass cover while securing financial assistance to help offset any loss in production.

Upon learning of the WBP, landowner Kathy Ashe and her son, William Olson, looked into the possibility of enrolling into the program.

“I had figured that my land was simply going to remain flooded and that was it,” stated Mrs. Ashe. “Then NRCS came out with the Water Bank Program and my renter suggested I look into it. I liked what I saw and decided to apply for the program.”

For years severe flooding of agricultural land has been a problem in the Prairie Pothole Region and Devils Lake Basin. Mrs. Ashe’s land, which is located near one of the many small lakes around Devils Lake, ND, has been in the family for over 100 years. Up until six years ago, before flooding, the land was very productive cropland—growing wheat, corn, and soybeans. The WBP is a good fit for Mrs. Ashe as it provides her with an opportunity to receive an income on flooded land that is no longer in production.

“I am very satisfied with the WBP program,” stated Mrs. Ashe. “Under this agreement with NRCS, I am receiving income that otherwise would not have been available. I’m not eligible for CRP, so this program offers a way for me to receive conservation assistance.

Landowners and operators can sign 10-year rental agreements to protect wetlands and provide wildlife habitat. Landowners receive annual payments for conserving and protecting wetlands and adjacent lands from adverse land uses and activities, such as drainage, that could potentially destroy the wetland characteristics of those lands. The program also helps restore upland habitat to perennial grasses for nesting and wildlife habit.

“One of the great things about the WBP program is we are able to reach an underserved constituency,” stated Paul Thompson, Ramsey County District Conservationist. “The CRP program has some eligibility restrictions for flooded lands. Moreover, some landowners would prefer to not enroll in a long term easement program like the Wetland Reserve Program. WBP is just another way to bring conservation assistance to a demographic that is, unfortunately, growing.”

For an agency that prides itself on its mission to “help people help the land” WBP is another way for NRCS to bring conservation to people who may not otherwise be eligible for assistance.