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Success Story

Carolina Conservation: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Environmental Justice at Work.

Watershed project in Robeson County North Carolina

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Environmental Justice working hard for marginalized communities in North Carolina. 

LUMBERTON, N.C.,- North Carolina is no stranger to powerful storms system, like Hurricane Matthew. Hurricane Matthew made its way through North Carolina on October 8, 2016, with it came record flooding. The storm caused millions in damages and was responsible for multiple deaths across the state, but it also exposed another issue, drainage. 

Robeson county wasn’t spared from the storm and has since conducted the pain-staking task of upgrading their infrastructure to protect its citizens from future storms. Robeson County is the largest county in the state of North Carolina by land area, having 949 sq mi (2,458 km) in total, & 2 sq mi (5 km), 0.23% of water. The county is also home to the Lumbee Tribe, one of North Carolina's eight state-recognized Indigenous tribes. Recent census data also reported that the county’s population is mostly Native American.

The county understood and still does, that the cost of repairing and preventing damage from these storm systems is a challenge. Improving infrastructure is a step in that direction. The state of North Carolina offers its own suite of conservation programs which the county can use, but thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, more dollars were invested in protecting the community. 

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law 

On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), an historic investment in America’s infrastructure and competitiveness. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with $918 million for projects which included building new dams, flood prevention projects and improving watershed infrastructure.

In 2022, the USDA-NRCS received a $39,080,000 investment for 6 projects in North Carolina; including rehabilitating dams, flood prevention, and watershed restoration projects. 

Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations

The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program includes the Flood Prevention Operations Program (Watershed Operations) authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944 (P.L. 78-534) and the provisions of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954 (P.L. 83- 566). It provides for cooperation between the Federal government and the States and their political subdivisions to address resource concerns due to erosion, floodwater, and sediment and provide for improved utilization of the land and water resources. BIL funds have been used for all six Preliminary Investigation Feasibility Reports (PIFR) in N.C.’s Watershed and Flood Prevention Operation (WFPO) Program. They have also been obligated for use in Robeson County Drainage Districts’ Planning, Design, and Construction phases as well.

Out of the six projects, three of those are within Robeson County: the Moss Neck Channel Watershed, Meadow Branch Channel Watershed, and Back and Jacob Swamp Watersheds. The goals of these projects are to help restore crucial drainage by replacing failing culverts, clearing, and repairing ditch banks, restoring travel ways, and removing sediment. All three projects are currently in the planning stages. $4.5 million has been obligated for these planning phases and will utilize Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) to produce individual Watershed Project Plans. These contracts provide for an indefinite quantity of services for a fixed time and help streamline the contract process and speed service delivery. 

This investment is a welcomed relief to many, who historically have been marginalized and forgotten. To address this, the USDA-NRCS and many other agencies have established environmental justice initiatives. 

Environmental Justice Community

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. To advance this goal, USDA-NRCS has prioritized underserved communities, while providing ongoing relief to communities impacted by severe weather events such as wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.  

The three projects in Robeson County have an additional impact. The projects are improving the lives of the Lumbee Tribe, a socially disadvantaged community. Together these projects will help over 45,000 people who are mostly Native American in the area stabilize and protect their community against future storms. 

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