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Conservation Corner

Restoring the Floodplain

Wed, January 05, 2011

Water treatment plants, libraries, road construction – that’s what most people think of when they hear about Recovery Act projects. However in Illinois, America’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act goes even further. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) is restoring historical floodplains – with big benefits. According to Illinois NRCS State Conservationist Bill Gradle, “The funds used for Illinois recovery projects reduce damage caused by floodwaters—they fix problems before they happen again, which is good for us economically and environmentally.”

USDA-NRCS received Recovery Act funding to purchase easements from landowners who made the decision to take cropland out of production in flood prone areas. In most cases, the land can only grow a successful crop in 1 out of 5 years. According to Dave Hiatt, NRCS Wildlife Biologist, “In the past few years Illinois has experienced unusually wet conditions making this a prime opportunity to restore that land to its original function – storing flood waters.”

NRCS purchased the easements on more than 1,600 acres in nine counties throughout Illinois from private landowners and a county forest preserve district located close to suburban Chicago. All easements are located along streams and rivers that flow into the Illinois, the Mississippi, and the Ohio River Watershed Basins. The total cost for easements and restoration work is estimated at more than $5 million.

“Three easements located along the Wabash River join together with existing wetland restoration projects and will create five miles of restored floodplains,” adds Hiatt. Another project site is located with a contiguous natural area of 453 acres in the Embarras River floodplain. One particular project includes a substantial wetland restoration of historic Otter Pond in Lawrence County.

Once established, these contiguous wetlands will offer significant benefits for wildlife, provide flood prevention downstream, and protect water quality. In addition to flood control, floodplains provide wildlife habitats and create recreational areas. “From a tax dollar perspective,” said Hiatt, “floodplain restoration reduces crop disaster payments and saves recurring expenses of repairing levees and dredging steams.” That could save millions of dollars.

According to NRCS, ecosystem benefits are just as important. Once restored, these sites will provide high quality habitat for many species of wildlife and plants, such as migratory birds, waterfowl and shorebirds, and other wetland-dependent wildlife species.

Restoring a floodplain is not a quick process. It requires a plan for restoration work and time for new management and practices to influence that land.

All 11 Illinois projects were planned, designed, and built on schedule and were completed by the end of 2010. Each project had specific earthwork and site requirements, such as removal of a levee section, construction of small wetlands within the floodplain, and seeding of native grasses or planting trees.

USDA-NRCS offers the Wetland Reserve Program, or WRP, year round. The WRP is a voluntary program which offers landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection. Landowners who were not accepted into the Recovery Act projects may qualify for NRCS’ regular WRP. Contact the local USDA Service Center and visit with USDA-NRCS or Soil and Water Conservation District staff. Visit to learn more.



I am back online

Fri, December 17, 2010

Here I am back online for Conservation Corner on Heartland Outdoors.  Glad to be back.  Its been a while since I blogged as I have been busy in the field applying conservation on the land.  That is a great feeling of implementing these EQIP contracts for all the various conservation projects we are funding in Tazewell County.  From Terraces, dry dam systems, grade stabilization structures, grassed waterways,etc. 

That is one of the things that I enjoy about my job seeing the conservation being implemented on the land and the improvements that landowners, farmers, and the agency and its partners make. 

Unfortunately we not only apply conservation to the land but also are responsible for paperwork, workload analysis, contract management, contract terminations and appeals.  I have been involved in all of those over the past few months.  We have brought on a new employee here in Pekin that is helping me out with the workload in addition to Josh and Wayne.  Curtis Lutz started October 25th. 

Glad to have him onboard and he is learning.  Great addition to the team.  Working on new EQIP applications for grassed waterays, terraces, grade stabilization structures,  In addition to CRP/CREP, WHIP.  It never seems to end. 

We just completed our CSP payments and are taking new applications for the next batching.  I will be adding new articles for some of the conservation practices we implemented over the last few months. 

Kole has kept me busy with his desire to hunt and fish.  We did go on a youth hunt in Mason County and will be going back in the anterless seasons coming up.  Til later



Seeking Proposals for Mississippi River Basin

Fri, December 17, 2010

Proposals due January 28, 2011

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2010 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking proposals for new conservation projects that support comprehensive efforts already underway to improve the water quality and overall health of the Mississippi River from North-Central Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Mississippi River is one of America’s most valuable water resources,” Vilsack said. “Through the cumulative actions of conservation-minded farmers, we can continue to provide our nation with the food, fiber and fuel we rely on, while at the same time ensuring cleaner waters than we’ve seen in decades.”

As part of its Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, USDA is providing up to $40 million in financial assistance for new partnership projects in 43 priority watersheds in 13 states. USDA will use a competitive process to distribute the available funding through existing conservation programs such as the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers this initiative, first announced in 2009. At that time the following 12 states participated—Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. This fiscal year USDA is adding South Dakota to the list of participating states in response to a recent comprehensive cropland study assessing conservation effects in the Upper Mississippi Basin, which includes South Dakota and several states listed above. The USDA study showed that much progress has been made in reducing excessive sediment losses on cropland acres in eight states; however additional treatment is needed on cropland acres in all the states.

Through approved projects, eligible farmers and landowners will voluntarily implement conservation practices that avoid, control and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; restore wetlands; and maintain agricultural productivity.

Key conservation practices include nutrient management, conservation crop rotations and residue and tillage management. Farmers and landowners can also restore wetlands and plant trees along streams to filter nutrients out of water draining off the farm. On a voluntary basis, participants can use financial assistance to install edge-of-field monitoring systems in specific locations within the selected watersheds. This monitoring will allow NRCS to assess environmental outcomes of the project.

USDA published its Request for Proposals (RFP) in the Federal Register recently, and project proposals are due on or before Jan. 28, 2011. The RFP explains the procedures for potential partners to sign agreements with USDA for projects that support the initiative’s objectives.

Federally recognized Indian tribes, state and local units of governments, farmer cooperatives, producer associations, institutions of higher education and other nongovernmental organizations can download the RFP at .

The RFP contains a list of the eligible watersheds as well as information about where project proposals should be submitted.

USDA also is seeking applications for Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG), with priority given to new projects in the Mississippi River Basin. Pre-proposal applications must be submitted by close of business Dec. 28, 2010. The CIG program funds the best new ideas for achieving environmental goals on agricultural lands.

In addition to the new projects, Vilsack also announced funding for existing projects in this initiative on Nov. 29, 2010. Forty-three million in financial assistance from conservation programs will be used to support more than 70 existing projects in the 12 states.

For more information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including the RFP and the eligible watersheds, as well as the CIG requirements, visit .

NRCS celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2010 and the federal commitment to conserve natural resources on private and Tribal lands. Originally established by Congress in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), NRCS has expanded to become a conservation leader for all natural resources, ensuring private lands are conserved, restored, and more resilient to environmental challenges.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202-720-6382 (TDD).


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