Opinion by Doug Miyamoto
Spring Flooding and Its Effects on Wyoming Agriculture
By Doug Miyamoto, Deputy Director, Wyoming Department of Agriculture
Following the flooding around Wyoming last summer, Wyoming farmers and ranchers had a lot of work to do. While many chose to undertake the cleanup themselves, there is a system in place for agricultural disaster assistance that works well in many cases.
The good news from the summer flooding is it could’ve been a lot worse. As we entered the spring and summer this year, all indications pointed to high snowpack run-off causing severe flooding all around Wyoming. In response to this threat, Governor Mead mobilized the Wyoming National Guard to help communities fill sand bags, build dikes and prepare for evacuations. On the agricultural side of the equation, irrigators were asked to divert as much water as possible to spread on fields so that the water wouldn’t end up flowing through downstream communities. This proactive and preventative action clearly reduced the level of clean up and restoration work required after the water subsided.
During this time, at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) we provided outreach to producers, county emergency management personnel, county commissioners and Wyoming Homeland Security on federal disaster assistance programs for agriculture and the process for receiving aid. This summer the WDA hosted producer and commissioner outreach meetings around the state to provide education of the process for applying for federal emergency funding and to assist with the disaster declaration process. It’s important to point out the two USDA agencies that rise to the top in delivery of disaster recovery assistance, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
NRCS offers a critical program called the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. The funding for this program resides with the Wyoming State Office for NRCS and can be delivered quickly and without a formal disaster declaration. This program was responsible for contributing over $360,000 worth of vital rehabilitation work following this year’s flooding and benefitted 58 landowners.
One particularly important project occurred on Shell Creek in Big Horn County. Water in the channel was running about 10 feet higher than normal and was threatening the Porter Ditch diversion structure. Water threatened to top the structure and was actively eroding the embankment holding it in place. If erosion would have continued unabated, the headgate would have fallen into the channel and diverted the entire river into the irrigation canal, which would have likely failed as well causing more severe flooding. Along with this project, NRCS was able to save a historic building, several roads, crossings and homes in response to this year’s flooding, as well as many structures and agricultural resources over the years through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
The Farm Service Agency, a sister agency to NRCS, was also able to get some agricultural disaster recovery funding into Wyoming this year. The process for garnering funding for FSA’s program requires competing for funding at the national level. Federal disaster declarations are required for many of FSA’s emergency programs. All of Wyoming’s counties were eligible for some level of FSA assistance that varied by the specifics of the disaster declaration. Delivery of actual money into the counties was a more difficult proposition.
Since Wyoming had to compete with tornados in the southeast, nation-wide flooding and record-breaking drought and wildfires in Texas, FSA funding was exhausted rapidly. FSA was able to deliver $140,000 to Crook County which assisted landowners in with projects like debris removal, fence reconstruction and headgate replacements.
Despite the fact that all Wyoming counties are eligible for disaster assistance, the process for formally requesting disaster declarations for program eligibility is complicated and time consuming. There are some recent developments that may streamline the process for applying for FSA disaster assistance, which could also increase the likelihood of project funding. The Nov. 14 edition of the Federal Register outlined a proposed rule that would eliminate the need for a formal disaster declaration in order to be eligible for FSA emergency programs. The Wyoming FSA staff provided status updates and program information all summer long and without their expert assistance, we would not have been able to inform our producers and commissioners on the process of obtaining federal disaster assistance.
All in all, there are programs available to help Wyoming farmers and ranchers in instances of disasters. It’s not a perfect system, but we will continue to provide as much information as possible to Wyoming’s producers regarding disaster recovery assistance. If you have any questions or concerns about disaster recovery assistance, contact the WDA at 307-777-7321.