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Published June 14 2012

Peterson: Farm bill could give valley $235 million for flood retention

FARGO – The ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee says the 2012 farm bill should include $1.3 billion for water retention projects over the next 10 years.

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson told The Forum’s editorial board Thursday that it’s possible the Red River Valley could see a huge chunk of that money as early as 2013.

Peterson has been working for at least two years to secure $500 million in mandatory retention funding for the Red River Valley in the next farm bill.

However, recent revisions to the draft legislation nearly triple the amount of retention funding that could be available nationwide, which means big news for the valley, Peterson said Thursday.

Through other cuts in farm bill spending, Peterson said federal lawmakers freed up $1.3 billion to fund “regional conservation partnerships.” Five designated regions in the country would be eligible for that pool of retention funding, Peterson said.

But of those, only two – the Red River Valley and Chesapeake Bay bordering Maryland and Virginia – have planned retention projects ready to go once the funding is available.

“The reality is, that’s who’s going to be able to access that,” Peterson said.

In fiscal year 2013, which begins Oct. 1, there could be as much as $235 million available for those projects, Peterson said.

The Red River Valley could likely see the bulk of that money since the Red River Retention Authority already has as many as 10 projects ready for the green light, Peterson said.

“For us in the valley, there’s no question this is the most important bill that we’re dealing with in Congress this session,” Peterson said.

The extra available funding is promising news for retention advocates in the valley, but there’s still a lot more work to be done on the ground here.

“The next obstacle is: How do we spend these dollars?” said Rodger Olson, a member of the Red River Retention Authority.

While several projects are in the works, local officials still have to settle other logistical details, such as coming up with the local matching dollars and ensuring rural farmers are on board, Olson said.

The retention projects will likely be built on farm land in the southern valley, and that will require cooperation from both property owners and the National Resources Conservation Service, which will administer the funds, Olson said.

The Senate’s version of the 2012 farm bill includes the retention dollars, Peterson said, predicting that that chamber could hold a final vote on the bill as early as next week.

“If there’s no glitches” the bill should also pass the House this summer, Peterson said. He said a conference committee of both chambers should give its approval to the final bill no later than the end of September.

This week, President Obama gave his support for the Senate bill, so once the legislation passes Congress, Peterson said it should have no trouble becoming law.

Peterson represents Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, which spans western Minnesota and includes Moorhead and Clay County.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541