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Emergency Watershed Protection Program Saves Opelika Alabama Home from Raging Waters

Craig Allen, NRCS Civil Engineer shows Pathways intern Jayden Barfield an EWP project in Opelika, Alabama.

Emergency Watershed Protection Program Saves Opelika Alabama Home from Raging Waters

Opelika, Alabama, Nov. 2, 2023 – When you want quantifiable examples of how the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Alabama creates real value through environmental conservation and adds quality to the lives of Americans; nowhere is it more apparent than in the recent prevention of a likely disaster when Lee county was inundated by unseasonal summer rain storms that caused flooding and threatened to collapse a major wastewater line and an Opelika resident’s home when a mild stream swelled into an eight to ten foot deep surge of water.

Rural communities are the backbone of our nation and thankfully, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), was signed into law in November of 2021, providing $918 million for Watershed Programs administered by NRCS, and $300 million of that was dedicated to the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), which offers vital recovery options for local communities to help people reduce hazards to life and property caused by major storms, wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters.  This historic legislation allows NRCS to address a broader portfolio of priority watershed needs across the nation and in US territories. 

NRCS watershed programs help communities bounce back from natural disasters and prepare for future ones.  NRCS provided funding for the Opelika project on July 14, 2022, after announcing its intent to invest an additional $420 million of BIL funding to 31 states and territories for 132 watershed projects that included rehabilitating dams, creating streambank stabilization, providing flood protection and constructing new watershed infrastructure.  At the end of FY 22, NRCS invested a total of $803 million of BIL funds into watershed programs.  

All Watershed Programs are locally led, requiring a sponsor to submit a request for assistance through their local NRCS office. Eligible sponsors include state government entities, local municipalities, Conservation Districts and federally recognized tribal organizations.

The city of Opelika was fortunate enough to have John Harris, a former NRCS District Conservationist, on staff as their Storm Water Coordinator.  His guidance was instrumental in the application for the City of Opelika sponsored project request through NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program in April 2022, and the construction phase was completed in February 2023.  Construction costs totaling $82,400 were approved for cost share between the City of Opelika and NRCS where the City of Opelika agreed to cover 25% of the cost ($20,600) and NRCS funded 75% ($61,800) along with technical support and the basic design for armoring the stream bank with riprap that was completed in June of 2023, just in time to avert potential disaster from those elevated storm waters.

Sponsors are encouraged to continue to submit funding requests throughout the year as funding remains available.  Check out the EWP Sponsor Resource page for more information.