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Wetland Options for Flood Prone Bottomland

by Jason Johnson, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-NRCS, Des Moines, Iowa

A wet spring and more recent flooding across northeast Iowa – from Charles City to Waukon – are frustrating many farmers trying to produce a crop on flood-prone bottomland. Thankfully there are conservation practices, programs and financial incentives available to help restore these areas back to wetlands and natural vegetation.

Wetlands help reduce flooding, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, provide wildlife habitat, recharge groundwater, and protect biological diversity.

“Recent wet conditions and flooding have a lot of producers looking for alternatives,” said Easement Specialist Mike Webster with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “USDA has some options these landowners may want to consider.”

One option is to enroll the land into the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), a program administered through NRCS that offers landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. “The goal of WRP is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled,” said Webster.

Since 1992, more than 165,000 acres have been restored or are in the process of being restored under WRP and similar federal programs in Iowa.

Enrollees have three WRP options – a permanent easement, 30-year easement, or restoration cost-share agreement. To be eligible for an easement, the landowner must have owned the land for at least seven years prior to enrolling.

Examples of eligible land includes prior converted cropland, farmed wetlands, farmed wetland pasture, land that has become a wetland due to flooding, pasture that can be restored, and lands adjacent to protected wetlands that contribute significantly to wetland functions and values.

“Particularly in north central and northeast Iowa, I have seen a lot of wet and flooded land that fits this description,” said Webster. “I hope some of these landowners visit their NRCS office to talk about their options.”

Fern Myers of Butler County enrolled 120 acres of flood-prone cropland into WRP in 2009. She says restoring those acres to wetlands made good sense. “My cropland acres weren’t consistently productive, and I wanted to keep something for the wildlife,” she says. “As a county conservation board member, we are always looking at ways to add wildlife habitat. Adding a wetland is a great way to do that.”

Administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) offers landowners, operators and tenants the opportunity to voluntarily convert land with high erosion rates and other environmentally sensitive land to permanent vegetative cover.

CRP is designed to safeguard natural resources, such as protecting topsoil from erosion, but it also helps to reduce water runoff and sedimentation which improves the conditions of local lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. And since CRP acreage is planted to vegetative covers, the program is a major contributor to increased wildlife populations.

CRP Wetland Restoration
Farmers with frequently flooded farmland can find new life with the CRP Wetland Restoration. Landowners retain the land’s value by creating wetlands and erasing expensive replanting costs for flood-ravaged or frequently washed-out land.

To be eligible for this restoration, land must have cropland planted to an agricultural commodity four of the previous six years from 2002 to 2007, be in a 100-year floodplain, have 51 percent hydric soils in the wetland portion, and include a buffer to benefit wildlife.

Farmable Wetlands Program
FSA’s Farmable Wetlands Program is helping Iowa landowners restore farmable wetlands and associated buffers by improving the land’s hydrology and vegetation. Producers plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve water quality, control soil erosion and enhance wildlife habitat.

In return, FSA provides participants with rental payments and financial assistance through 10- and 15-year contracts. FWP-eligible producers can enroll land through CRP signups.

Contact your local FSA office for more information about eligibility and enrollment options to restore wetlands.


Video: Bringing Back Wetlands