Emergency Watershed Protect Program - Floodplain Easements
The Emergency Watershed Protection - Floodplain Easement Program (EWP-FPE) provides an alternative measure to traditional EWP recovery, where it is determined that acquiring an easement in lieu of recovery measures is the more economical and prudent approach to reducing a threat to life or property. Floodplain easements restore, protect, maintain and enhance the functions of floodplains while conserving their natural values such as fish and wildlife habitat, water, quality, flood water retention and ground water recharge. Privately-owned lands or lands owned by local and state governments may be eligible for participation in EWP-FPE. EWP-FPEis not available in all areas at all times and is most commonly available to landowners in areas recently impacted by a natural disaster such as widespread flooding.
Section 382 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-127) amended the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), which was established under the Agricultural Credit Act of 1978, to provide for the purchase of floodplain easements as an emergency response to natural disasters or other circumstances. Since 1996, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has purchased permanent floodplain easements on 1,418 properties, totaling 184,254 acres located in 36 states.
NRCS may purchase EWP-FPE permanent easements on floodplain lands that:
The floodplain lands were damaged by flooding at least once within the previous calendar year or have been subject to flood damage at least twice within the previous 10 years. If FPE is being offered as a recovery for a specific natural disaster, at least one of the instances of flooding must have been a result of that natural disaster.
Other lands within the floodplain are eligible, provided the lands would contribute to the restoration of the flood storage and flow, provide for control of erosion, or that would improve the practical management of the floodplain easement.
Lands would be inundated or adversely impacted as a result of a dam breach.
A permanent easement is the only enrollment option available for EWP-FPE floodplain easements. Permanent FPE easements are available on the following types of land:
Agricultural or open lands. In these cases, NRCS will pay up to 100% of the easement value and up to 100% of the costs for easement restoration.
Lands primarily used for residential housing. In these cases, NRCS will pay up to 100% of the easement value and up to 100% of the structure's value if the landowner chooses to have it demolished. If the landowner wished to relocate their residence instead of demolishing it, the NRCS will pay 100% of the costs associated with relocating it to a location outside of the floodplain. A project sponsor is required for these projects and is required to purchase the remaining lot after structures are removed.
Although participation in EWP-FPE is voluntary, landowners selected for enrollment are required to sign a permanent conservation easement for the property included in their application. Through the signing of the easement, the NRCS purchases a series of rights from the landowner including the authority to restore and enhance the floodplain's functions and values. Once an easement has closed, the boundary configuration and terms of the agreement cannot be modified under any circumstances.
As compensation for the rights purchased by the NRCS, the landowner will receive the lowest of three values:
The fair market value (FMV) of the land. The fair market value may be determined through either of two methods: an area-wide market analysis or survey (AWMA) or an individual Uniform Standards for Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) appraisal. (See NEWPPM, Section 515.60(B)(D)).
The geographic area rate cap (GARC). The GARC reflects the value the State Conservationist, with the advice of the State Technical Committee, determines to be fair compensation for the value of the easement.
A voluntary written offer by the landowner. At the time of application, the landowner may voluntarily offer to accept less compensation than would be offered by NRCS. This may enhance the probability of enrollment. An offer to accept a lower compensation amount will be documented in writing on the ranking factors worksheet.
Easement compensation for projects that include residences or other structures will be determined by an appraisal.
The easement provides NRCS with the authority to restore and enhance the floodplain's functions and values. NRCS may pay up to 100% of the restoration costs. To the extent practicable, NRCS actively restores the natural features and characteristics of the floodplain through re-creating the topographic diversity, increasing the duration of inundation and saturation, and providing for the re-establishment of native vegetation. The landowner is provided the opportunity to participate in the restoration efforts.
After the sale of the permanent EWP-FPE easement, landowners still retain several property rights, including:
The right to quiet enjoyment
The right to control public access and
The right to undeveloped recreational use such as hunting and fishing
At any time, a landowner may request authorization from NRCS to engage in other activities, provided that NRCS determines it will further the protection and enhancement of the easement's floodplain functions and values. These compatible uses may include managed timber harvest, periodic haying, or grazing. NRCS determines the amount, method, timing, intensity, and duration of any compatible use that might be authorized. While a landowner can realize economic returns from an activity allowed on the easement area, a landowner is not assured of any specific level or frequency of such use, and the authorization does not vest any rights outside of those specified in the easement to the landowner.
How to Apply
Landowners interested in enrolling their land in a permanent EWP-FPE easement should contact their local USDA Service Center for more information. EWP-FPE is not available in all areas at all times and is most commonly available to landowners in areas recently impacted by a natural disaster such as widespread flooding.
Program Contact: Gail Bartok, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, 732-537-6042
This page was last modified on March 7, 2014.