USDA invests $73 million in critical infrastructure projects and assessments to provide public safety through watershed rehabilitation
New assessments to focus on expanding water supply in drought-stricken West
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $73 million to rehabilitate dams across the nation in an effort to protect public health and safety and evaluate the expansion of water supply in drought stricken areas. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing in approximately 150 projects and assessments in 23 states. “Millions of people depend on watersheds and dams for protection from floods and providing clean drinking water,” Vilsack said. “By investing in this critical infrastructure, we are helping to ensure a safe, resilient environment for rural America.”
There are nearly 12,000 dams across the United States. Investing in this critical infrastructure protects lives and property, builds community resilience to extreme weather, provides quality drinking water, creates jobs, and reduces the need for federal disaster assistance.
In addition to nearly 50 rehabilitation projects, NRCS is conducting 100 dam assessments in 13 states through the Watershed Rehabilitation Program. Last year, NRCS made changes to the watershed rehabilitation program to allow for projects that also help increase water supply. Half of this year’s dam assessments, including 15 in drought-stricken California, will assess the feasibility of using watershed rehabilitation funds to mitigate drought.
“USDA continues to look for new ways to mitigate the impacts of drought across the West, and this change to the Watershed Rehabilitation Program allows us to use existing infrastructure to address water quantity issues,” Vilsack said.
For 2015, Kansas has one project for $20,000 that includes Whitewater River Watershed Dam No. 19 located in Harvey County, Kansas. The dam protects one county highway and another county road, as well as other critical infrastructures that include numerous houses downstream. The dam currently provides about $179,000 in average annual benefits including flood damage reduction.
The 2014 Farm Bill made about $250 million available for watershed rehabilitation. In fiscal year 2014, Kansas NRCS received $1.75 million for watershed rehabilitation for the planning and construction assistance to five watersheds:
- Little Walnut Hickory Watershed (Butler County)
- Muddy Creek Watershed (Butler County)
- Rock Creek Watershed (Butler County)
- Upper Walnut Watershed (Butler County)
- Spring Creek Watershed (Sedgwick County)
“These funds go a long way to help ensure public safety,” said Eric B. Banks, State Conservationist. “We work closely with the local project sponsors to ensure that these dams continue to protect and provide water for communities.”
Watershed projects across the nation 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.