American Rivers releases “The Multiple Benefits of Floodplain Easements”

October 10, 2022

An Assessment of Demand for Floodplain Easements in the Upper Mississippi River Basin


Olivia Dorothy, 217-390-3658

Amy Kober, 503-708-1145

Significant new investments are needed in the Upper Mississippi River Basin to reduce agricultural damages from flooding, according to The Multiple Benefits of Floodplain Easements released today by American Rivers. In the five Upper Mississippi River Basin states – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin – flooding is the most frequent and widespread cause of crop damage. Over the past decade, flood-related agricultural damages in the five Upper Mississippi River Basin states have exceeded $8 billion, while flood prevention funding over that same time was only $267 million.

“Analysis of the USDA’s cause of loss data for the Federal Crop Insurance Program shows that flood damages have been escalating in the last two decades,” said Olivia Dorothy, Restoration Director at American Rivers. “The trends are in line with the more extreme precipitation patterns that we have observed in the region. Not only are more acres flooding, but the cost of the flood damages is also increasing.”

The report also found that the average subside per acre has also been increasing with these trends, even when controlled for inflation and number of acres enrolled. The average subside for flood damaged acres during the historic 1993 Flood was under $20. But during the 2019 Flood, the average per acre subsides for flood damages jumped to over $80.  

“The report highlights how and why we need to farm differently as climate change drives more extreme precipitation events and prolonged flooding,” said Dorothy. “Farmers need more resources and options to manage land that is subject to flood damages.”

The report points out that the USDA conservation easement programs often miss flood-prone acres. The Secretary of Agriculture has declared flood-related agricultural disasters annually across the five Upper Mississippi River Basin states, yet funding for the USDA floodplain easement program has only been open to enrollment twice in the region.

The report calls for expanding the use of the USDA floodplain easement program to not only reduce long-term flood damages, but also address other environmental and economic issues in the region, including needs associated with

  • Supporting local economies,
  • Increasing conservation opportunities,
  • Expanding flood storage areas,
  • Reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution,
  • Preventing the extinction of local species,
  • Growing the use of permeant conservation easements, and
  • Meeting the demand for floodplain easements in the region.

In the five Upper Mississippi River Basin states, 2,210 farmers have tried to enroll land into the USDA floodplain easement program, but only 10 percent of those applications were awarded, representing 16 percent of total acres applied.

To expand the use of the USDA floodplain easements and prevent future flood damages, American Rivers is recommending the following reforms for the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill:

  1. The USDA floodplain easement option should be open for annually enrollment and added to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Programs.
  2. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) should implement a tracking system for their floodplain easements.
  3. The USDA-NRCS should collaborate with university, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other independent experts to understand the monetary value of floodplain ecosystem services.
  4. Congress should remove land-tenure requirements for the floodplain easement program to ensure extremely flood-prone land can be taken out of production and protected permanently.
  5. The USDA should work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to track and prioritize properties with a history of repetitive losses due to flooding.
  6. The USDA should develop recommendations and best management practices for farmers where flooding is becoming more frequent and widespread to reduce damages.
  7. The USDA-NRCS should develop science-based recommendations for restoring floodplain functionality, including recommendations on levee and dike removal or modifications.

About American Rivers

American Rivers believes a future of clean water and healthy rivers for everyone, everywhere is essential. Since 1973, we have protected wild rivers, restored damaged rivers, and conserved clean water for people and nature. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., and 300,000 supporters, members, and volunteers across the country, we are the most trusted and influential river conservation organization in the United States, delivering solutions for a better future. Because life needs rivers.