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Published August 10, 2009, 12:00 AM

Interest high for ring dike funding

Interest in a federal program that covers 75 percent of the cost of building ring dikes to protect farms from flooding in the Red River Valley has exceeded expectations, prompting a boost in funding for the program.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

Interest in a federal program that covers 75 percent of the cost of building ring dikes to protect farms from flooding in the Red River Valley has exceeded expectations, prompting a boost in funding for the program.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service initially allocated $2 million to Minnesota and $1 million to North Dakota for ring dike construction.

Minnesota officials expected to get 40 applications based on input from local watershed districts, but instead received 78 applications, said Glen Kajewski, NRCS assistant state conservationist in Thief River Falls, Minn.

North Dakota NRCS officials who expected “maybe 100” applications ended up with 173, said Jennifer Heglund, Kajewski’s counterpart in Bismarck.

“It surpassed our expectations,” she said.

As a result, the NRCS raised each state’s allocation to about $2.4 million, tentatively funding 48 ring dike projects in North Dakota and about 55 in Minnesota, officials said.

The figures are still in flux because Aug. 15 is the deadline for farmers to complete paperwork to get the funds under contract.

“Our local field office folks will be pretty frantic for a while,” Kajewski said.

The funding was made available via the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the idea arose this spring as he and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., toured the Red River Valley with NRCS Chief Dave White. But officials didn’t start to get a handle on how much interest there was until after the funding was announced, he said.

Applications were ranked based on the contents of the farmstead and the environmental damage they could pose if flooded.

“So, if they had farm chemicals like fertilizers, fuels, pesticides, equipment stored where it might have leaching from batteries, that type of thing, those folks ranked higher,” Kajewski said.

Not surprisingly, counties along the Red River, which hit a record flood height last spring, produced the most applications, he said.

As of last week, Cass County led the way among North Dakota counties with 16 funded applications, while Polk County led Minnesota with 12. Clay County had eight applications.

The NRCS also has earmarked funds to reimburse engineers who will work with watershed districts to help farmers design the dikes, which carry cost estimates ranging from about $20,000 to more than $100,000, Kajewski said.

Earthen ring dikes are typically built to a height of 6 to 8 feet for farmsteads close to rivers and 4 feet or shorter for those farther away, he said.

“They’ll be noticeable where folks have them. There are quite a few out on the landscape already,” he said.

The program is available only to agricultural producers, but Kajewski noted there are a number of non-farmers in rural areas who also need protection.

Peterson said he’s now in talks to see if more funding can be identified to address the other interests.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to get more money allocated next year. This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding the NRCS also is exploring water storage in the Wild Rice River watershed.

NRCS officials have already talked about earmarking EQIP dollars for 2010 for more ring dikes, although there’s no guarantee that will happen, Kajewski said. He hopes to see work start on a third of the dikes before winter.

“It would be great to get some of those done so that they can sleep a little better when high waters come and know that their equipment, chemicals and everything else is protected,” he said.


Ring dikes by county

The National Resources Conservation Service has allocated about $4.8 million for ring dikes around farmsteads in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Here are the applications, by county, for which funding has been obligated:

North Dakota

Cass 16

Pembina 11

Grand Forks 9

Traill County 7

Griggs 1

Ransom 1

Ramsey 1

Richland 1

Walsh 1


Minnesota

Polk 12

Marshall 8

Clay 8

Wilkin 7

Norman 5

Kittson 2

Pennington 1

Roseau 1


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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