Robert Richards had a good 30 feet of backyard above Oxbow Creek at one of his rental properties. Then last fall, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee laid claim to it, sweeping away about 400 feet of streambank in hard-hit Wyoming County, Pa.
"The creek came up to 18 inches below the back porch, and I lost 30 feet of the back yard," recalls Richards. "There used to be stone steps, built in the mid-1930's, that went to the creek. They, too, washed away."
After learning that federal disaster aid may be available, Richards immediately sought assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wyoming County Conservation District, and Wyoming County Commissioners determined the stream bank erosion was a threat for future flooding and to life and property and required immediate action.
To stabilize the stream bank and prevent further erosion, more than 400 feet of large rip rap (rocks) was installed along Richard's properties. "The toe of the stream bank and the bank itself are now protected so that any future high water will not cause further erosion," reports Ed Patchcoski, NRCS District Conservationist.
Richards is grateful for the work, and notes that additional flooding could have destroyed his homes. Funding was provided by USDA's NRCS and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, NRCS was able to pay 75% of the construction costs.
As stipulated in the EWP regulations, local sponsors were responsible for the remaining 25%. DEP was able to provide the 25%, while the Wyoming County Commissioners stepped forward and handled local sponsorship and administrative concerns.
The EWP program was established by Congress to help safeguard individuals and property by relieving imminent hazards caused by a sudden impairment to a watershed, such as flooding and erosion. EWP-eligible projects include: debris removal from waterways that are causing threats to homes, businesses or utilities; reshaping and protecting eroding stream banks that endanger homes, businesses and utilities; and reseeding areas that are excessively eroding.
After Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, NRCS surveyed 260 Pennsylvania sites for damages, and found 140 projects eligible for assistance through EWP. To date, eight projects have been completed and the rest are expected to be completed by the end of this year. The majority of these projects are for stream bank stabilization in areas where private residence, business, or public utilities are threatened.Similar work is also still underway in New York, Vermont and other Northeast states. For more information about NRCS and Emergency Watershed Protection Program, contact your local USDA Service Center, or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.