Baucus Presses USDA For Additional Flood Support For Rural AG Communities
Senator Max Baucus today applauded flood recovery projects already underway in Yellowstone and Valley Counties as a result of funds he secured from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week. But, Baucus said, more help is desperately needed. He called on USDA to increase its contribution to the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which funds projects like irrigation system repairs that are unlikely to be covered under FEMA and other federal disaster funds that are concentrated on urban repairs. “USDA’s support is already providing a lifeline in rural Montana communities ravaged by floods, and I thank the agency for stepping up to repair irrigation systems and protect damaged bridges from collapse. But the urgent need continues,” Baucus said. “Right now, eroded banks and uncontrolled waters are threatening homes, bridges and property across Montana, and USDA’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program is the best and fastest option standing between these communities and continued devastation. I’m urging USDA to give the program the support it needs to help our rural communities prevent this terrible tragedy from getting even worse.” Baucus continues to press FEMA for swift approval of Montana’s Major Presidential Disaster Declaration request, which will free up additional federal resources. But he says looking to USDA and other agencies to find immediate support and funding for projects not covered under the Disaster Declaration requested by the state is also crucial. “We’ve got to exhaust every resource and look under every rock to find Montana’s communities the support they need to recover. That means pressing FEMA to get to work and stop stalling on Montana’s disaster declaration, and it also means thinking outside the box to find immediate and targeted support from other agencies like USDA,” Baucus said. Of the $600,000 in Emergency Watershed Protection Program funds Baucus announced last Friday, most of the funds have already been obligated for projects including, repairs to the damaged irrigation system in Yellowstone County’s Huntley Project and protection to keep bridges from collapsing in Valley County. Still Baucus pointed to initial damage reports showing more than $2 million additional funding needed for roughly 15 other projects across the state. Beyond the 15 immediate projects, there are more than 119 other potential sites that the State Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has flagged for potential Emergency Watershed Protection Program funds. Emergency Watershed Protection Program projects may include, but are not limited to: repairing damaged irrigation infrastructure; reseeding flooded fields; removing debris from stream channels, road culverts, and bridges; reshaping and protecting eroded banks; correcting damaged drainage facilities; and repairing irrigation canal structures. These funds may also be used to prevent future flooding from this year’s record snowpack.
The letter Baucus sent Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack yesterday is available below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
Thank you for your recent announcement to make $600,000 in Emergency Watershed Protection Program funds available lo Montana in order to assist with the flood recovery efforts underway in our rural agriculture communities. Montana has wasted no time in putting these funds to good use and has obligated around $440,000 for several projects already. However, this is not enough. It is my understanding that an initial assessment has estimated that an additional $2 million will be needed for roughly 15 other projects across the state. Also, there are more than 115 other potential sites that the State Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has flagged in their Damage Survey Reports as in potential need of Emergency Watershed Protection Program funds. Therefore, while I greatly appreciate your work to get some much needed funding to Montana’s communities most affected by the Hooding. I urge US DA to direct additional resources to Montana for the Emergency Watershed Protect Program. Again, thank you for your quick response in providing preliminary resources for Montana’s flood recovery. I also appreciate your consideration of my renewed request and look forward to working with you to assist Montana’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities during this difficult time.