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Spotlight on Economics: Exploring Flooding Effects on Devils Lake Conservation Land Supply

Impacts for agricultural landowners include productivity losses caused by permanent inundation or temporary flooding.

By David Roberts, Associate Professor

NDSU Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department

Flooding has been a pressing problem for individual landowners and municipalities in the region since Devils Lake levels began rising more than 20 years ago due to the ongoing wet climate cycle.

I, along with Daniel Margarit and Robert Hearne, have been investigating the impacts of that flooding on agricultural land values in the area of Devils Lake.

Impacts for agricultural landowners include productivity losses caused by permanent inundation or temporary flooding. Because Devils Lake is highly saline, soil salinization may continue to hamper agricultural production on inundated and flood-prone lands long after the lake recedes.

The economic hardships associated with these productivity losses affect not only landowners’ welfare but also the welfare and economic resiliency of the counties and municipalities in which they reside.

One possibility is for state, federal or nongovernment entities to ameliorate these economic harms and provide public benefits by acquiring these adversely affected lands for conservation purposes. Land could be targeted for purchase based on lost agricultural productivity and its potential to support wetland and grassland ecosystems if permanently removed from production.

We used geospatial information systems (ArcMap 10.3) to conduct detailed analyses of the land areas surrounding Devils Lake to determine which ecologically sensitive lands might be acquired most cost-efficiently based on recent history, including cropping patterns, flooding and agricultural prices in 2000 and 2001.

Our results indicate that a large amount of flooded or high-risk land that is suffering from production losses could be removed permanently from production through buyouts. Much of the land below the 1,463-foot elevation and within 300 feet of streams and rivers in the region has been impacted adversely by permanent, frequent or occasional flooding.

Based on agricultural market conditions during the study period, we believe that as many as 250,000 acre of land could be acquired for conservation purposes at a cost of $100 per acre, or a total of about $25 million. These lands subsequently could be managed to provide wildlife habitat, ecosystems services and recreation opportunities for North Dakota’s citizens and visitors as the lake recedes.

Our research specifically investigated the supply of high flood-risk lands near surface waters. However, other important factors also may play a role in site selection. For example, large tracts of contiguous land are desirable for wildlife habitat preservation, ecosystems services and recreation.

If state and local policymakers wish to investigate opportunities to stabilize the economy in the region surrounding Devils Lake and simultaneously provide publicly available benefits from land conservation, public acquisition of privately owned land in the area of Devils Lake is an alternative that merits further exploration.


NDSU Agriculture Communication - Sept. 8, 2016

Source:David Roberts, 701-231-9796, david.c.roberts@ndsu.edu
Editor:Kelli Armbruster, 701-231-6136, kelli.armbruster@ndsu.edu
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