The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which would get $400 million for watershed infrastructure, partners with local sponsors on 14,000 watershed structures throughout the nation, including many aging dams. It has a potential backlog of more than $1 billion worth of flood prevention work to do, says Douglas McKalip, legislative director.
But it is up to the local partners to initiate flood prevention projects. The federal share of new construction is 100%, but if fish habitat restoration or recreation improvements or dam rehabilitation are involved the locals have to pick up a 35% share. Many such potential projects are not positioned to launch as quickly as those the House stimulus bill seeks to fund.
“These programs and projects do create jobs locally. It is certainly a stimulus, whether it be purchase of materials or dam components...and a lot of this work is contracted out; design, engineering and construction. If you look at a map of the US with these on it, it’s a pretty shotgun approach,” McKalip says.
Although McKalip says there are no specific projects to name, the proposed stimulus package includes $175 million for flood protection. There is another $175 million for water quality projects, including buying and restoring conservation easements in river flood zones, against a backlog of $289 million. Another $50 million is targeted for watershed rehabilitation.
In the case of conservation easements, in addition to the typical acquisition of farmland, the money also funds the restoration of the bottomland through planting of trees and the restoration of hydrologic characteristics to pre-agricultural conditions.
“If the funding comes through we’ve got to make some decision,” McKalip says.