NRCS Chief Address Watershed Renovation and 'Waters of the US'Mon, 21 Jul 2014 18:02:24 CDT
The head of the Natural Resource Conservation Service was in Oklahoma last Friday to announce a $262 million dollar investment to rehabilitate dams that provide critical infrastructure and protect public health and safety. Oklahoma will be the largest recipient of the funding in receiving over $26 million to renovate 14 structures across the state. NRCS Chief Jason Weller says this amount of funding through the 2014 Farm Bill increased the typical annual investment in watershed rehabilitation by almost 21 fold.
"This is a massive infusion, this is significant investment that is going take what would normally we would get the period of 10 or 12, 15 years, we're getting in one year and that's being delivered by the Farm Bill, that was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, gave us these resources to go out and get the job done much faster provide that protection and benefits to communities much quicker," Weller said
The nation's infrastructure will need more investment in the future. From the 1940s through the 1970s, local communities using NRCS assistance constructed more than 11,800 dams in 47 states. Weller says every day for the next two decades another dam is going to reach the end of its design life.
"Keeping on top of that and ensuring that they continue to provide that flood protection and they are actually safe and protect those communities is going to be job bigger than just my agency," Weller said. "It's a job that's going to be done, again that partnership with local communities and with state governments, that together we can come together and solve that."
Projects that already have the planning and design work complete will begin as early as this fall. Weller says NRCS plans to have these rehabilitation projects completed over the next 18 months.
At the national announcement at Perry Lake, Leslie Smith with the Radio Oklahoma Ag Network also spoke with Weller on the 'Waters of the US' Proposal and how this could affect the NRCS agency. Weller says the Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of the Clean Water Act and the job of the NRCS is to work with farmers and ranchers on a voluntary basis. He does not look for the proposal to change the mission of the NRCS.
"We're not a regulatory agency at all and so in my view, I can't speak to how 'Waters of the US' will impact farmers and ranchers, I think farmers and ranchers can speak for themselves in terms of those impacts, it's our job is to help producers meet requirements but really focusing on their soil and water resource management, "Weller said. "It's not going to turn NRCS into a regulatory agency."
"We're not gonna be coming through the farm gate and be the 'water police' that some have alleged," Weller said. "That's not our job and that's not at all who we will be, either today or in the future."
But could that change with the latest proposal, Weller says no.
"EPA is not going to have the power to tell us how we do our jobs or what our authorities are," Weller said. "Our authorities are on the voluntary side, to work at the invitation of farmers and ranchers to give them that one-on-one advice and help them be successful".
"We're not there to regulate what they do on their farms and ranchers," he said.
Weller recognized that there are a lot of concerns about the proposal across the countryside. He has a few concerns of his own, but he says he will leave it to farmers and ranchers to share their concerns with EPA.
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