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Water Bank Program eases sting of flooding losses

Terry Borstad isn’t certain why some of his land near Devils Lake has remained under water for the past 25 years. But he’s certain that revenue the high water cost him resulted in millions of lost dollars.

Loretta Sorensen is a Yankton, S.D., writer

Since 1993 high water started claiming not just Borstad’s land, but more and more cropland adjacent to the lake.

Devils Lake, flooding

“Many of those years we didn’t see above average precipitation, but we did have some cooler temperatures, which meant less evaporation,” Borstad says. “There are theories about why the lake has grown from 40,000 acres to nearly 200,000, but no concrete reason. Now, the lake level would have to recede more than 20 feet before our crop land would emerge.”

The fact that Borstad still pays taxes on the flooded land caused him to attempt to realize some income from the land by enrolling in the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Water Bank Program (WBP) in 2015.

In fiscal year 2012, Congress appropriated $7.5 million to fund a program designed to assist producers affected by flooding. Through WBP, administrated by NRCS. Eligible producers can enter into a non-renewable 10-year rental agreement to protect the flooded land. In the process, the land provides wildlife habitat.

“Landowners receive annual payments for conserving and protecting the flooded land and adjacent lands, providing a direct benefit to wildlife and water quality,” Paul Thompson, Ramsey County NRCS District Conservationist says. “This is a very popular program for landowners dealing with flooded land.”

Landowners can also be awarded WBP funds to help restore upland habitat to perennial grasses for nesting and wildlife habitat.

“Through the WBP we’re able to reach an underserved constituency,” Thompson says. “The CRP program has some eligibility restrictions for flooded lands, and some landowners prefer not to enroll in a long-term easement program like the Wetland Reserve Program.”

In FY 2017, Congress appropriated $4 million to fund the Water Bank Program. NRCS has opened enrollment into the program in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota

Among the purposes of WBP are preserving and improving major wetlands as habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife, conserving surface waters, reducing soil and wind erosion, contributing to flood control, improving water quality, improving subsurface moisture and enhancing the natural beauty of the landscape.

Land enrolled in WBP may not be cropped, although NRCS may authorize haying under limited circumstances, such as drought. Applications receiving first priority are croplands impacted by flooding. Flooded pasture, hay and range lands are considered medium priority and forest and other flooded lands are given a low priority.

For more information about the WBP and other programs,
contact the Ramsey County NRCS Field Office at 701-662-7967.