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e-CFR data is current as of January 25, 2021

Title 7Subtitle BChapter VISubchapter C → Part 624

Title 7: Agriculture


§624.1   Purpose.
§624.2   Objective.
§624.3   Scope.
§624.4   Definitions.
§624.5   Coordination.
§624.6   Program administration.
§624.7   Cost-sharing.
§624.8   Assistance.
§624.9   Time limits.
§624.10   Floodplain easements.
§624.11   Waivers.

Authority: Sec. 216, P.L. 81-516, 33 U.S.C. 70lb-1; Sec. 403, P.L. 95-334, as amended, 16 U.S.C. 2203; 5 U.S.C. 301.

Source: 70 FR 16926, Apr. 4, 2005, unless otherwise noted.

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§624.1   Purpose.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and United States Forest Service (FS) are responsible for administering the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. This part sets forth the requirements and procedures for Federal assistance, administered by NRCS, under Section 216, Public Law 81-516, 33 U.S.C. 701b-1; and Section 403 of the Agricultural Credit Act of 1978, Public Law 95-334, as amended by Section 382, of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, Public Law 104-127, 16 U.S.C. 2203. The Secretary of Agriculture has delegated the administration of the EWP Program to the Chief of NRCS on state, tribal, and private lands, and Chief of FS on National Forest Systems lands, including any other lands that are administered under a formal agreement with the FS. The FS administers the EWP Program in accordance with the Forest Service Manuals 1950 and 3540, and the Forest Service Handbook 1909.15

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§624.2   Objective.

The objective of the EWP Program is to assist sponsors, landowners, and operators in implementing emergency recovery measures for runoff retardation and erosion prevention to relieve imminent hazards to life and property created by a natural disaster that causes a sudden impairment of a watershed.

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§624.3   Scope.

EWP Program technical and financial assistance may be made available to a qualified sponsor, or landowners when a floodplain easement is the selected alternative by the Secretary of Agriculture, upon a qualified sponsor or landowner's request when a Federal emergency is declared by the President or when a local emergency is declared by the NRCS State Conservationist. The EWP Program is designed for emergency recovery work, including the purchase of floodplain easements. Emergency watershed protection is authorized in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.

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§624.4   Definitions.

(a) Defensibility means the extent to which an action is:

(1) More beneficial than adverse in the extent and intensity of its environmental and economic effects;

(2) In compliance with Federal, State, and local laws;

(3) Acceptable to affected individuals and communities;

(4) Effective in restoring or protecting the natural resources;

(5) Complete with all necessary components included; and

(6) Efficient in achieving the desired outcome.

(b) Exigency means those situations that demand immediate action to avoid potential loss of life or property, including situations where a second event may occur shortly thereafter that could compound the impairment, cause new damages or the potential loss of life if action to remedy the situation is not taken immediately.

(c) Floodplain easement means a reserved interest easement, which is an interest in land, defined and delineated in a deed whereby the landowner conveys all rights and interest in the property to the grantee, but the landowner retains those rights, title, and interest in the property which are specifically reserved to the landowner in the easement deed.

(d) Imminent threat means a substantial natural occurrence that could cause significant damage to property or threaten human life in the near future.

(e)(1) Limited resource area is defined as a county where:

(i) Housing values are less than 75 percent of the State housing value average; and

(ii) Per capita income is 75 percent or less than the National per capita income; and

(iii) Unemployment is at least twice the U.S. average over the past 3 years based upon the annual unemployment figures.

(2) NRCS will use the most recent National census information available when determining paragraphs (e)(1)(i) and (ii) of this section.

(f) Natural occurrence includes, but is not limited to, floods, fires, windstorms, ice storms, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic actions, slides, and drought.

(g) Project sponsor means a State government or a State agency or a legal subdivision thereof, local unit of government, or any Native American tribe or tribal organization as defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b), with a legal interest in or responsibility for the values threatened by a watershed emergency; is capable of obtaining necessary land rights; and is capable of carrying out any operation and maintenance responsibilities that may be required.

(h) Watershed emergency means adverse impacts to resources exist when a natural occurrence causes a sudden impairment of a watershed and creates an imminent threat to life or property.

(i) Watershed impairment means the situation that exists when the ability of a watershed to carry out its natural functions is reduced to the point where an imminent threat to health, life, or property is created. This impairment can also include sediment and debris deposition in floodplains and upland portions of the watershed.

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§624.5   Coordination.

(a) If the President declares an area to be a major disaster area, NRCS will provide assistance which will be coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or its designee. FEMA is the lead federal agency for Presidentially-declared natural disasters.

(b) When an NRCS State Conservationist determines that a watershed impairment exists, but the President does not declare an area to be a major disaster area, FEMA does not coordinate assistance. In this situation, NRCS will assume the lead, provide assistance, and coordinate work with the appropriate State office of emergency preparedness and other Federal, tribal, or local agencies involved with emergency activities, as appropriate.

(c) In the case where the watershed impairment exists solely on FS System lands, the FS will determine the existence of the impairment, assume the lead, provide assistance and coordinate work with the appropriate State office of emergency preparedness and other Federal, tribal, or local agencies involved with emergency activities, as appropriate.

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§624.6   Program administration.

(a) Sponsors. (1) When the State Conservationist declares that a watershed impairment exists, NRCS may, upon request, make assistance available to a sponsor which must be a State or political subdivision thereof, qualified Indian tribe or tribal organization, or unit of local government. Private entities or individuals may receive assistance only through the sponsorship of a governmental entity.

(2) Sponsors must:

(i) Contribute their share of the project costs, as determined by NRCS, by providing funds or certain services necessary to undertake the activity. Contributions that may be applied towards the sponsor's applicable cost-share of construction costs include:

(A) Cash;

(B) In-kind services such as labor, equipment, design, surveys, contract administration and construction inspection, and other services as determined by the State Conservationist; or

(C) A combination of cash and in-kind services;

(ii) Obtain any necessary real property rights, water rights, and regulatory permits;

(iii) Agree to provide for any required operation and maintenance of the completed emergency measures; and

(iv) Comply with applicable registration and reporting requirements of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Pub. L. 109-282, as amended), and 2 CFR parts 25 and 170.

(b) Eligibility. NRCS will provide assistance based upon the NRCS State Conservationist's determination that the current condition of the land or watershed impairment poses a threat to health, life, or property. This assistance includes EWP practices associated with the removal of public health and safety threats, and restoration of the natural environment after disasters, including acquisition of floodplain easements.

(1) Priority EWP assistance is available to alleviate exigency situations. NRCS may approve assistance for temporary correction practices to relieve an exigency situation until a more acceptable solution can be designed and implemented.

(2) Limitations. (i) In cases where the same type of natural event occurs within a 10-year period and a structural measure has been installed or repaired twice within that period using EWP assistance, then EWP assistance is limited to those sites eligible for the purchase of a floodplain easement as described in §624.10 of this part.

(ii) EWP assistance will not be used to perform operation or maintenance, such as the periodic work that is necessary to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of a measure to perform as originally designed and installed.

(iii) EWP assistance will not be used to repair, rebuild, or maintain private or public transportation facilities, public utilities, or similar facilities.

(iv) EWP assistance, funded by NRCS, will not be provided on any Federal lands if such assistance is found to augment the appropriations of other Federal agencies.

(v) EWP assistance is not available for repair or rehabilitation of nonstructural management practices, such as conservation tillage and other similar practices.

(3) Repair of structural, enduring, and long-life conservation practices. (i) Sponsors may receive EWP assistance for structural, enduring, and long-life conservation practices including, but not limited to, grassed waterways, terraces, embankment ponds, diversions, and water conservation systems, except where the recovery measures are eligible for assistance under the Emergency Conservation Program administered by the Farm Service Agency.

(ii) EWP assistance may be available for the repair of certain structural practices (i.e., dams and channels) originally constructed under Public Law 83-566; Public Law 78-534; Subtitle H of Title XV of the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 (16 U.S.C. 3451 et seq., commonly known as the Resource Conservation and Development Program); and the Pilot Watershed Program of the Department of Agriculture Appropriation Act of 1954 (Pub. L. 83-156; 67 Stat. 214). EWP assistance may not be used to perform operation and maintenance activities specified in the agreement for the covered structure project entered into with the eligible local organization responsible for the works of improvement.

(iii) NRCS may authorize EWP assistance for modifying damaged practices when technology advances or construction techniques warrant modifications, including when modifications are the result of federal permitting or other requirements necessary to implement the recovery measure, and will be cost-shared as described in §624.7.

(iv) EWP assistance is only available when public or private landowners, land managers, land users, or others document they have exhausted or have insufficient funding or other resources available to provide adequate relief from applicable hazards.

(4) Increased level of protection. In cases other than those described in paragraph (b)(3)(iii) of this section, if the sponsor desires to increase the level of protection that would be provided by the EWP practice, the sponsor will be responsible for paying 100 percent of the costs of the upgrade or additional work.

(c) Eligible practices. NRCS will only provide assistance for measures that:

(1) Provide protection from additional flooding or soil erosion; and,

(2) Reduce threats to life or property from a watershed impairment, including sediment and debris removal in floodplains and uplands; and

(3) Restore the hydraulic capacity to the natural environment to the maximum extent practical; and

(4) Are economically and environmentally defensible and technically sound.

(d) Documentation. NRCS will document the economic rationale of proposed practices in appropriate detail before the allocation of emergency funding, including projects under consideration for floodplain easements in §624.10. Generally, the expected value of the property restored should exceed the cost of emergency measures, including taking into consideration environmental benefits. Documentation will include, but is not limited to:

(1) Number of locations and extent of damage, including environmental and cultural resources at risk, because of the watershed impairment;

(2) Estimated damages to the values at risk if the threat is imminent but not yet realized;

(3) Events that must occur for any imminent threat to be realized and the estimated probability of their occurrence both individually and collectively;

(4) Estimates of the nature, extent, and costs of the emergency practices to be constructed to recover from an actual threat or relieve an imminent threat;

(5) Thorough description of the beneficial and adverse effects on environmental resources, including fish and wildlife habitat;

(6) Description of water quality and water conservation impacts, as appropriate;

(7) Analysis of effects on downstream water rights; and

(8) Other information deemed appropriate by NRCS to describe adequately the environmental impacts to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and related requirements.

(e) Implementation. When planning emergency recovery practices, NRCS will emphasize measures that are the most economical and are to be accomplished by using the least damaging practical construction techniques and equipment that retain as much of the existing characteristics of the landscape and habitat as possible. Construction of emergency practices may include, but are not limited to, timing of the construction to avoid impacting fish spawning, clearing of right-of-ways, reshaping spoil, debris removal, use of bioengineering techniques, and revegetation of disturbed areas. Mitigation actions needed to offset potential adverse impacts of the EWP Program practices should be planned for installation before, or concurrent with, the installation of the EWP Program practices. In rare occurrences where mitigation cannot be installed concurrently, plans will require mitigation be accomplished as soon as practical.

(f) NRCS may determine that a measure is not eligible for assistance for any reason, including economic and environmental factors or technical feasibility.

[70 FR 16926, Apr. 4, 2005, as amended at 76 FR 19684, Apr. 8, 2011]

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§624.7   Cost-sharing.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, the Federal contribution toward the implementation of emergency measures may not exceed 75 percent of the construction cost of such emergency measures, including work done to offset or mitigate adverse impacts as a result of the emergency measures.

(b) If NRCS determines that an area qualifies as a limited resource area, the Federal contribution toward the implementation of emergency measures may not exceed 90 percent of the construction cost of such emergency measures.

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§624.8   Assistance.

(a) Sponsors must submit a formal request to the State Conservationist for assistance within 60 days of the natural disaster occurrence, or 60 days from the date when access to the sites becomes available. Requests must include a statement that the sponsors understand their responsibilities and are willing to pay its cost-shared percentage as well as information pertaining to the natural disaster, including the nature, location, and scope of the problems and the assistance needed.

(b) On receipt of a formal request for EWP assistance, the State Conservationist or designee shall immediately investigate the emergency situation to determine whether EWP is applicable and to prepare an initial cost estimation for submission to the NRCS Chief or designee. The cost estimation will be submitted no later than 60 days from receipt of the formal request from the sponsor. The State Conservationist will take into account the funding priorities identified in paragraph (c) (3) of this section. The State Conservationist will forward the damage survey report, which provides the information pertaining to proposed EWP practice(s) and indicates the amount of funds necessary to undertake the Federal portion, to the NRCS Chief or designee. This information will be submitted no later that 60 days from receipt of the formal request from the sponsor, or no later than 60 days from the date funding is made available to the State Conservationist, whichever is later. NRCS may not commit funds until notified by the Chief, or designee, of the availability of funds.

(c) Before the release of financial assistance, NRCS will enter into a Cooperative Agreement with a sponsor that specifies the responsibilities of the sponsor under this part, including any required operation and maintenance responsibilities. NRCS will not provide funding for activities undertaken by a sponsor prior to the signing of the agreement between NRCS and the sponsor.

(1) NRCS will only provide funding for work that is necessary to reduce applicable threats.

(2) Efforts must be made to avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts associated with the implementation of emergency measures, to the extent practicable, giving special attention to protecting cultural resources and fish and wildlife habitat.

(3) Funding priorities for recovery measures. NRCS will provide EWP assistance based on the following criteria, which are ranked in the order of importance:

(i) Exigency situations;

(ii) Sites where there is a serious, but not immediate threat to human life;

(iii) Sites where buildings, utilities, or other important infrastructure components are threatened;

(iv) When reviewing paragraphs (c)(3)(i) through (iii) of this section, NRCS will take into account the following resources as they may affect the priority, including, but not limited to:

(A) Sites inhabited by federally listed threatened and endangered species or containing federally designated critical habitat where the species or the critical habitat could be jeopardized, destroyed, or adversely modified without the EWP practice;

(B) Sites that contain or are in the proximity to cultural sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places where the listed resource would be jeopardized if the EWP practice were not installed;

(C) Sites where prime farmland supporting high value crops is threatened;

(D) Sites containing wetlands that would be damaged or destroyed without the EWP practice;

(E) Sites that have a major effect on water quality; and

(F) Sites containing unique habitat, including but not limited to, areas inhabited by State-listed threatened and endangered species, fish and wildlife management areas, or State-identified sensitive habitats; and

(v) Other funding priorities established by the Chief of NRCS.

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§624.9   Time limits.

Funds must be obligated by the State Conservationist and construction completed within 220 calendar days after the date funds are committed to the State Conservationist, except for exigency situations in which case the construction must be completed within 10 days after the date the funds are committed.

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§624.10   Floodplain easements.

(a) General. NRCS may purchase floodplain easements as an emergency measure. NRCS will only purchase easements from landowners on a voluntary basis.

(b) Floodplain easements. (1) Floodplain easements established under this part will be:

(i) Held by the United States, through the Secretary of Agriculture;

(ii) Administered by NRCS or its designee; and

(iii) Perpetual in duration;

(2) Eligible land. NRCS may determine land is eligible under this section if:

(i) The floodplain lands were damaged by flooding at least once within the previous calendar year or have been subject to flood damage at least twice within the previous 10 years; or

(ii) Other lands within the floodplain would contribute to the restoration of the flood storage and flow, erosion control, or that would improve the practical management of the easement; or

(iii) Lands would be inundated or adversely impacted as a result of a dam breach.

(3) Ineligible land. NRCS may determine that land is ineligible under this section if:

(i) Implementation of restoration practices would be futile due to “on-site” or “off-site” conditions;

(ii) The land is subject to an existing easement or deed restriction that provides sufficient protection or restoration, as determined by the Chief of NRCS, of the floodplain's functions and values; or

(iii) The purchase of an easement would not meet the purposes of this part.

(4) Compensation for easements. NRCS will determine easement compensation in accordance with applicable regulation and other law.

(5) NRCS will not acquire any easement unless the landowner accepts the amount of the easement payment that is offered by NRCS. NRCS reserves the right not to purchase an easement if the easement compensation for a particular easement would be too expensive, as determined by NRCS.

(6) NRCS may provide up to 100 percent of the restoration and enhancement costs of the easement. NRCS may enter into an agreement with the landowner or another third party to ensure that identified practices are implemented. NRCS, the landowner, or other designee may implement identified practices. Restoration and enhancement efforts may include both structural and non-structural practices. An easement acquired under this part shall provide NRCS with the full authority to restore, protect, manage, maintain, and enhance the functions and values of the floodplain.

(7) The landowner must:

(i) Comply with the terms of the easement;

(ii) Comply with all terms and conditions of any associated agreement; and

(iii) Convey title to the easement that is acceptable to NRCS and warrant that the easement is superior to the rights of all others, except for exceptions to the title that are deemed acceptable by NRCS.

(8) Structures, including buildings, within the floodplain easement may be demolished and removed, or relocated outside the 100-year floodplain or dam breach inundation area.

(c) The Chief of NRCS may modify or terminate an easement if, pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 2203(b), the Chief determines the modification or termination is in the public interest and will address a compelling public need for which there is no practicable alternative.

(d) Enforcement. (1) In the event of a violation of an easement, the violator will be given reasonable notice and an opportunity to correct the violation within 30 days of the date of the notice, or such additional time as NRCS may allow.

(2) NRCS reserves the right to enter upon the easement area at any time to remedy deficiencies or easement violations. Such entry may be made at the discretion of NRCS when such actions are deemed necessary to protect important floodplain functions and values or other rights of the United States under the easement. The landowner will be liable for any costs incurred by the United States as a result of the landowner's negligence or failure to comply with easement or agreement obligations.

(3) In addition to any and all legal and equitable remedies as may be available to the United States under applicable law, NRCS may withhold any easement and cost-share payments owing to landowners at any time there is a material breach of the easement covenants or any associated agreements. Such withheld funds may be used to offset costs incurred by the United States, in any remedial actions, or retained as damages pursuant to court order or settlement agreement.

(4) NRCS will be entitled to recover any and all administrative and legal costs, including attorney's fees or expenses, associated with any enforcement or remedial action.

(5) On the violation of the terms or conditions of the easement or related agreement, the easement shall remain in force, and NRCS may require the landowner to refund all or part of any payments received by the landowner under this Part, together with interest thereon as determined appropriate by NRCS.

(6) All the general penal statutes relating to crimes and offenses against the United States shall apply in the administration of floodplain easements acquired under this part.

[70 FR 16926, Apr. 4, 2005, as amended at 80 FR 19009, Apr. 9, 2015]

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§624.11   Waivers.

To the extent allowed by law, the NRCS Deputy Chief for Programs may waive any provision of these regulations when the agency makes a written determination that such waiver is in the best interest of the Federal government.

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