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Easements Offer New Life for Flood-Soaked Illinois Land

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Landowners in southern Illinois continue to struggle with flooding after a 2016 breech in the Len Small Levee.

A new partnership could help breathe new life into Illinois lands that have been plagued by multi-year floods.
At the southern tip of the state, acres of historically rich farmland in Dogtooth Bend have seen repeated damage since a 2016 levee break along the Mississippi River. Dale Shumaker, chairman of the Pulaski-Alexander County Soil and Water Conservation District, said landowners will continue to suffer economic losses if the area isn't protected soon.

"Since the levee has not been repaired, the water is still able to come through," he said, "and eventually, there's concern that it's going to cut a new channel across the Dogtooth Bend area and completely isolate the lower bend, which is still several thousand acres."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service's Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership and The Nature Conservancy are teaming up to provide financial assistance to farmers in the area. Starting Aug. 17, landowners who want to phase out crop production can apply to enroll acres in wetland reserve easements, allowing them to integrate restoration practices on working landscapes.

Shumaker said the opportunity will support those who are looking to move on from the difficulties of managing land in a flood zone, with a practical approach to restoring the landscape.

"In an ideal world," he said, "we'll be able to get vegetation back on the property and hopefully, mitigate some of the flood water, and maybe get some long-term wildlife areas or whatever, to be able to have some use or purpose for this land again."

The Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership has allocated more than $14 million to enroll easement acres, and The Nature Conservancy is providing $583,000 in program support. Landowners can contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District to learn more about applying for the program.

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