Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced July 18 that communities across the nation will benefit from a $262 million investment to rehabilitate dams that provide critical infrastructure and protect public health and safety. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller and U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, were in Oklahoma to recognize the importance of this announcement to agriculture and communities nationwide.
“This investment will protect people and property from floods, help keep our water clean, and ensure that critical structures continue to provide benefits for future generations,” Weller said. “Families, businesses and our agriculture economy depend on responsible management of dams and watersheds, and we are continuing to provide that support to these communities.”
A number of the projects to be funded are in Oklahoma and Weller noted that the state had the first full watershed plan and structure completed by USDA on private lands in the 1940s. The 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law earlier this year, increased the typical annual investment in watershed rehabilitation by almost 21 fold, recognizing the critical role of these structures in flood management, water supply, and agricultural productivity.
From the 1940s through the 1970s, local communities using NRCS assistance constructed more than 11,800 dams in 47 states. These watershed management projects provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, and improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.
Weller said that funding provided through new projects will provide rehabilitation assistance for 150 dams in 26 states. Funds will be used for planning, design or construction. Also, 500 dam sites will be assessed for safety through NRCS’ Watershed Rehabilitation Program. For a complete list of the projects, click here. The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250 thousand people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.
For example, Watershed Dam No. 62 in the Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed of Noble County, Okla., will be included in a USDA-funded rehabilitation partnership project. Currently awaiting rehabilitation design, the dam provides protection against flooding to about 550 Oklahomans who live and work downstream.
Additionally, the dam protects seven county roads, one state highway, two U.S. highways and an interstate highway that, together, support about 16,200 vehicles daily. Among other critical infrastructure, the dam also protects power lines and railroad tracks. The rehabilitation project is expected to provide about $7.5 million in benefits including flood damage reduction, water supply and recreational benefits.
“These funds will go a long way towards improving the safety and continued benefits provided by these watershed structures,” Weller said. “We will work closely with the local project sponsors to ensure that these dams continue to protect and provide water for communities and agriculture.”
For more information, visit the Watershed Rehabilitation webpage or local USDA service center.
Friday’s announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The farm bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America.
For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.