Emergency Watershed Protection Program Benefits

The purpose of the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program is to respond to emergencies created by natural disasters. The EWP Program is designed to help people and conserve natural resources by relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, drought, windstorms, and other natural occurrences. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the EWP Program. 

There are two components to the EWP Program: the EWP-Recovery through which NRCS works with a sponsor to implement emergency measures to address watershed impairments, and the EWP-Floodplain Easement (FPE) through which NRCS purchases directly from landowners an easement on floodplain lands to restore and protect floodplain functions and values.

Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program

The EWP Program offers technical and financial assistance to help local communities relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters that impair a watershed. EWP does not require a disaster declaration by federal or state government officials for program assistance to begin. The NRCS State Conservationist can declare a local watershed emergency and initiate EWP program assistance in cooperation with an eligible sponsor (see the Eligibility section below). 

NRCS will not provide funding for activities undertaken by a sponsor prior to the signing of a cooperative agreement between NRCS and the sponsor. NRCS offers financial and technical assistance for various activities under the EWP Program, including: 

  • Remove debris from stream channels, road culverts and bridges;
  • reshape and protect eroded streambanks;
  • correct damaged or destroyed drainage facilities;
  • establish vegetative cover on critically eroding lands;
  • repair levees and structures;       
  • repair certain conservation practices, and
  • purchase of EWP Buyouts.

Who is eligible for Emergency Watershed Protection Program?

The EWP Program is a recovery effort program aimed at relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms, and other natural occurrences. EWP does not require a disaster declaration by federal or state officials for program assistance to begin, but ultimately partial funding must be provided by the state Legislature. If funding becomes available, all funded projects must demonstrate they reduce threats to life and property; be economically, environmentally and socially sound; and must be designed to acceptable engineering standards, if applicable.

Through the recovery component, public and private landowners are eligible for recovery assistance, but must be represented by a project sponsor that must be a legal subdivision of the State, such as a city, county, township or conservation district, and Native American Tribes or Tribal governments. NRCS may pay up to 75 percent of the construction cost of emergency measures. The remaining 25 percent must come from local sources and can be in the form of cash or in-kind services.

Through the FPE component, owners of privately-owned lands or lands owned by local and state governments may be eligible for participation in EWP-FPE. Under FPE, NRCS purchases an easement and pays up to 100 percent of the costs to restore the floodplain functions and values. To be eligible, lands must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Lands that have been 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
  • Other lands within the floodplain are eligible, provided the lands would contribute to the restoration of the flood storage and flow, provide for control of erosion, or that would improve the practical management of the floodplain easement
  • Lands that would be inundated or adversely impacted as a result of a dam breach
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Emergency Watershed Protection Program Eligibility

Recovery Projects

Recovery projects begin with a local sponsor or legal subdivision of state or tribal government. Eligible sponsors include cities, counties, towns, conservation districts, or any federally-recognized Native American tribe or tribal organization. Interested public and private landowners must work through a sponsor.


In some situations, landowners can directly apply for assistance through a floodplain easement at the local NRCS office when project funding for floodplain easements becomes available. States will hold a signup period for the impacted communities and the local NRCS offices will publicize that information in the affected communities.

The EWP Program cannot be used:

  • to address the same structural issue or practice 3 times within 10 years;
  • for existing operation and maintenance;
  • to repair, rebuild, or maintain any transportation facilities, utilities, or similar facilities;
  • to restore projects installed by another federal agency;
  • to repair nonstructural management practices;
  • to repair coastal erosions to beaches, dunes, and shorelines, including those along the Great Lakes;
  • if the recovery measures are eligible for the Emergency Conservation Program offered thru the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
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Locally-Led Solutions

All EWP projects must have a sponsor and demonstrate that they reduce threats to life and property; be economically, environmentally and socially sound; and must be designed to acceptable engineering standards. NRCS partners with diverse sponsors to complete EWP Program projects. Sponsors include cities, counties, towns, conservation districts, or any federally-recognized Native American tribe or tribal organization.

Sponsors can apply for EWP Program assistance directly to NRCS while public and private landowners can apply for this assistance through a local sponsor. Check out the EWP Sponsor Resource page for more information.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) to assist project sponsors in protecting lives and property from flooding or soil erosion after a natural disaster. In communities impacted by constant flooding or severe erosion due to a natural disaster, a property buyout might be the best solution..

What is an EWP Buyout?

EWP buyouts are used where structural projects to reduce threats from flooding and erosion are not cost-effective and/or beneficial. Once NRCS determines that buying a flood-prone property (for example) would provide the pivotal solution and sustainable course of action for a community, EWP has the authority to provide local sponsors with financial assistance to purchase and restore the property. NRCS may provide project sponsors up to 75 percent of: the fair market value based on an appraisal for the property,relocation costs, andthe site restoration costs.

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What lands are eligible?

Any land use is potentially eligible for an EWP Buyout. Agricultural land, land with/without structures and communities with residential properties, are eligible if the buyout:

  • provides protection from additional flooding or soil erosion,
  • reduce threats to life or property, 
  • restore the hydraulic capacity to the natural environment to the maximum extent practical, and 
  • is economically and environmentally defensible and technically sound.

What is the process?

EWP assistance does not require a disaster declaration by FEMA. The EWP process begins with a request for assistance from an eligible local Sponsor within 60 days of the disaster (or 60 days from when the site is accessible). Once the request is received, NRCS will work with the project sponsors determine eligibility, select the best solution (structural, buyout, or easement), and develop a cost estimate.

The NRCS State Conservationist and project Sponsor enter into an agreement where NRCS would provide cost-share funds for the recovery measures, which may include structural, buyout, or easement solutions. When a buyout is the best alternative, NRCS will provide financial assistance for the property purchase, removal of structures, and site restoration.

What are the benefits?

Buyouts are effective in preventing future damage, make residents safer and protect communities. Once purchased, the land is returned to a natural open space where it provides the added benefit of absorbing storm runoff, reducing future flooding, and providing wildlife habitat.

Criteria for Assistance

All EWP work must provide protection from future flooding or soil erosion; reduce threats to life and property; restore the natural function to the watershed; and be economically and environmentally sound.

How do I obtain assistance?

If property has been damaged by flooding or threatened by severe erosion and meets the eligibility requirements, it may qualify for EWP assistance. To request assistance, work with a local project sponsor to contact your USDA-NRCS EWP Program Manager.


A Project Sponsor must be a State or political subdivision thereof, qualified Indian tribe or tribal organization, or unit of local government. Cities, Counties, and state conservation districts are the most common sponsors of EWP projects. Contact your local NRCS office to learn more about EWP buyouts.

How do I apply for Emergency Watershed Protection Program?

EWP - Recovery: If your land has suffered severe damage that may qualify for the EWP Program, you should contact your local sponsoring authorities and request assistance. Additional information regarding EWP-Recovery eligibility and availability, please visit the EWP-Recovery page.

EWP - FPE: Landowners interested in enrolling their land in a permanent EWP-FPE easement should contact the NRCS Office within the local USDA Service Center for more information. EWP-FPE is not available in all areas at all times and is most commonly available to landowners in areas recently impacted by a natural disaster such as widespread flooding. For additional information regarding EWP-FPE please visit the EWP-FPE page.


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