Pelham Council approves USDA administered Emergency Watershed Program

Published 8:22 am Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...


PELHAM – The Pelham City Council is currently awaiting feedback from an assessment conducted for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

The program was approved by the Council in November following the massive flood that hit parts of Shelby County on Oct. 6.

According to Ainsley Allison, the public relations coordinator for the city of Pelham, the USDA program will apply to the approximately 1.3 mile stretch of Bishop Creek that runs behind the YMCA.

The price tag for the project has not been given yet, however, according to City Manager Gretchen DiFante, the EWP Program provides up to 75-percent of the cost of mitigation measures and the sponsoring organization (in this case the city of Pelham) is responsible for the remaining 25-percent.

“Large limbs and trees and other debris were brought down during the March 25 tornado, and some of this debris made its way to the creek,” DiFante said. “After the 1,000-year rain event of Oct. 6, that debris moved swiftly in the creek causing blockages and continuing erosion along the creek bed. This erosion and blockages will cause more flood damage if not corrected.”

DiFante said that the creek is not public property, and it is the responsibility of home and landowners along the creek to maintain the creek that runs through private property.

“The city has no right of way to enter the creek with the exception of the portion of the creek located on city-owned property,” she said. “Many residents cannot afford to pay someone to haul debris out of the creek, and it isn’t safe to do on one’s own.  I contacted Jonathan Gaddy, deputy director of the state EMA, to see if he knew of funding available to complete mitigation measures in the waterways after a disaster, and he pointed us to the NRCS.”

The Emergency Watershed Protection Program is administered by the USDA through the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and was established in 1978 to help communities recover after natural disasters like floods and storms.

According to DiFante, the whole premise of the EWP Program is that natural disasters cause damage by wind and water which can interfere with a watershed’s ability to drain properly and safely.

Federal assistance through the EWP Program can help state, local and tribal governments implement emergency recovery measures to relieve imminent hazards in the watershed.

DiFante said a team from the NRCS already conducted an evaluation in the first week of December to determine if the city was eligible for assistance. On Tuesday, Jan. 4, a representative from the NRCS called DiFante to schedule a follow-up visit with someone from Natural Resources who will inspect the degree of damage to the city’s natural resources and determine what impact on natural resources may be caused in the execution of mitigation services.

“After this visit, we will receive a notice of eligibility or non-eligibility,” DiFante said. “Then, and only then, IF funding is available, we will receive notice of allocation of funds.  After that point, the city would enter into a project agreement with NRCS and hire a contractor to design and construct recovery measures.”

If approved, Pelham can hire a contractor to remove significant debris from the creeks, thus reducing the chances of future flooding and helping to mitigate erosion.