The Water Bank Program (WBP) was established by Congress in 1970 for several purposes: to preserve and improve wetlands as habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife, to conserve surface waters, to reduce runoff and soil erosion, to contribute to flood control, to improve water quality, to increase subsurface moisture, and to enhance the natural beauty of the landscape. Landowners with significant migratory waterfowl habitat on their property can enter into a ten-year agreement with the ASCS to manage the land so that habitat values will be maintained or improved. The ASCS makes payments to landowners on an annual, per acre basis to help offset management costs. Agreements are renewable.
How the program works
NRCS biologists work with landowners to develop a management plan that will be implemented over the life of the agreement. In California, these management programs typically focus on providing nesting, brood-rearing, and wintering habitat for migrating and resident birds, both by planting and by maintaining flooded areas during the appropriate seasons. After the management plan has been worked out, the landowner enters into an agreement with the ASCS, committing to make the habitat improvements and maintain them for ten years. Landowner payment rates vary by county, but all are made on a per acre, yearly basis.
Lands eligible under this program are specifically defined, but in general they are inland freshwater wetlands, as well as certain adjacent uplands-such as those suitable for nesting-that add substantial habitat value to the wetland. The minimum total area eligible for enrollment is 10 acres, encompassing at least two acres of wetlands. Further, to be eligible for the WBP, the land must not have changed ownership during the two-year period immediately prior to the start of the proposed agreement. Land accepted into the WBP that meets the requirements of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) may be included in the CRP as well.
Agreements are reviewed at the beginning of the fifth year of the contract, at which time payment rates may be adjusted to reflect current land values. Uses of the land under agreement may include hunting and, on a limited basis, vegetation-management practices such as grazing. If the management plan involves activities that require permits, obtaining these is the responsibility of the landowner, with assistance available from NRCS staff.
In California, the Water Bank program is offered in the following counties: Lassen, Modoc, Siskiyou, Glenn, Butte, Colusa, Sutter, Yolo, and Merced. Funding for the program depends on yearly appropriations by Congress, which has allocated funds every year since the program's inception in 1970. For more information, contact your local NRCS or ASCS office, listed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the telephone directory, or the NRCS State Biologist at (916) 757-8253.
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