The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program (also known as PL-566) can fund projects that protect watersheds, improve agricultural water management, mitigate floods, improve water quality, reduce soil erosion, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.
A wide variety of organizations are eligible to be project sponsors, including soil and water conservation districts, municipalities, irrigation districts, and water user associations (not operated for profit), Tribes, and tribal organizations. A project sponsor must have the authority under State law to carry out, maintain and operate any projects that would be funded by PL-566.
First, a potential project sponsor submits a letter requesting assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) under the program. NRCS then completes a feasibility study called a Preliminary Investigation Feasibility Report (PIFR) to determine if an organization and potential projects would be a fit for the PL-566 program. If there is a good fit, NRCS provides planning funding to complete a Watershed Plan-Environmental Assessment (Plan-EA) or Watershed Plan-Environmental Impact Statement (Plan-EIS). With an authorized Plan-EA or Plan-EIS, a project sponsor is eligible to receive design and construction funding through the program.
A Watershed Plan-Environmental Assessment (Plan-EA) or Watershed Plan-Environmental Impact Statement (Plan-EIS) is an environmental review document required by NRCS for planning and carrying out projects under PL-566. These documents satisfy the requirements of both the PL-566 program and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The purpose of a Plan-EA or Plan-EIS is to determine whether a proposed project will have significant environmental effects and to look at alternative means to achieve the project’s goals. Environmental effects considered include social, cultural, economic, and natural resources. If a proposed project would not have a significant effect and would require less than $25 million in federal funding for construction, an authorized Plan-EA allows the project to move forward. If a proposed project would have a significant effect or would require more than $25 million in federal funding for construction, it would require a Plan-EIS to move forward.
NEPA was the first major environmental law in the United States. It was signed by President Nixon on January 1, 1970. NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. The goal of the NEPA process is to foster action that protects, restores, and enhances our environment. This is achieved through using Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) to provide public officials with relevant information and allow a detailed look at the potential environmental consequences of each proposed project. Read more about the NEPA process from the Council of Environmental Quality.
These guidelines govern how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (including NRCS) evaluate proposed water resource development projects. In addition to complying with the requirements of NEPA, Watershed Plans must also meet PR&G requirements. More information on how the PR&G are incorporated into the Watershed Plan process can be found in the USDA’s Guidance for Conducting Analyses Under the Principles, Requirements, and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies and Federal Water Resource Investments DM 9500-013.
NRCS is the lead federal agency responsible for ensuring compliance with NEPA. Depending on the significance of the environmental effects of the proposed project, NRCS may issue a decision known as a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for Plan-EA or issue a Record of Decision (ROD) for a Plan-EIS. NRCS will determine if the proposed project provides sufficient watershed conservation benefits to receive federal financial assistance. If Plans are authorized, NRCS provides additional design and construction funding.
In general, a Plan-EA/EIS process begins with a scoping period, where the public, agencies, and other stakeholders have the opportunity to provide feedback on what should be considered in the Plan-EA/EIS. After the scoping process, NRCS and the sponsor develop a draft Plan-EA/EIS, which is reviewed by the NRCS National Watershed Management Center (NWMC). The Draft Plan-EA/EIS is then made available to the public for review and comment, and a public meeting is held to gather comments and feedback. After incorporating public comments, a Final Plan-EA/EIS is developed. NRCS determines if a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or Record of Decision (ROD) is warranted, and if so, after signing the FONSI/ROD, sends the Plan-EA/EIS to the agency’s national office for authorization. If the Plan-EA/EIS is authorized, NRCS can provide additional funding to the sponsor for design and construction.
There is a match funding requirement for construction funding for all types of projects except for flood control. There is no match requirement for planning and design funds for most projects. The construction match requirement depends on the type of project and ranges between 25% and 50% non-federal match. Agricultural water management projects (e.g., canal piping, canal lining) generally have a 25% match requirement.
Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is contracted to assist NRCS and the sponsors in the planning process and development of Plan-EAs and Plan-EISs. FCA is responsible for preparing the Plan-EAs and Plan-EISs according to NEPA and NRCS rules to assess the potential environmental impacts resulting from proposed projects.
If you are interested in PL-566, contact your local NRCS district conservationist. Additionally, information about the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) program can be found on the NRCS website.
Your input helps local irrigation districts and agencies make informed decisions. You are encouraged to participate in the planning process by:
For further information please contact:
Farmers Conservation Alliance
102 State St
Hood River, OR 97031
Public scoping announcements can be viewed by state on the NRCS website.