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Review of Maintenance of Federally Assisted Conservation Structures and Measures in Iowa

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-05-17.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                           DOCUMENT RESUME

02166 - [A1432430]   (   4f4"et

[Review of Maintenance of Federally Assisted Conservation
Structures and Measures in Iowa]. CED-77-63; B-114833. May 17,
1977. 6 pp.

Report to Sen. Dick Clark; by Robert F. Keller, Acting
Comptroller General.

Issue Area: Iand Use Planning and Control: Federal Programs
    Concerning Non-public Lands and Related Resources (2307).
Contact: Conmmnity and Economic Development Div.
Budget Function: Nattral Resources, Environment, and Energy:
    conservation and Land Management (302).
Organizaticn Concerned: Department of Agriculture.
Congressional Relevance: Sen. Dick Clark.
         Some conservation measures and 3tructures installed
with Federal cost-sharing assistance under the Department of
Agriculture's Agricultural Conservation Program have been
eliminated by the original or subsequent owners of the farm
properties. Findings/Conclusions: Visits to about 165 farms in
Iowa showed that some conservation practices had been eliminates
or modified, but there did not appear to be & serious problem. A
sample of farms that had benefited from Federal cost-shLring
assistance in recent years for vegetative cover, liming, sod
waterways, or terraces, including nearly all the farm units that
had been sold to a new owner or operator after the specified
practice was sold, was visited. Agricultural Stabilization and
Conservation Service (ASCS) regulations require that a sample of
at least 5% of the conservation practices funded in the current
year are to be reviewed to esta'lish whether they have been
installed and maintained. The regulations also require that,
when such reviews are made, all previous cost-shared practices
on the farm are to be checked to see that they are being
properly maintained. Review of the files at the LSCS offices in
three Iowa counties sho,tcd that the files in two counties did
not identify any maintenance problems with the conservation
practices reviewed, while three cases where collection action is
being considered because vegetative cover was not maintained
were pending in the third county. (SC)
            REStIRICTID/    Not to be   eased utslde the General
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                 §tffwAccoca   ti                  Ad
                                             Iel.tt#e$ass approval



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B-114833



The Honorable Dick Clark
United States Senate

Dear Snnator Clark:

     Your letter of September 17, 1976, expressed concern
that some conservation measures and structures installed
with Federal cost-sharing assistance under the Department
of Agriculture's Agricultural Conservation Program have
been eliminated by the original or subsequent owners of
the farm properties. You asked us to determine, in Iowa,
whether the removal of conservation practices is becoming
< problem, especially after farms are sold to new owners.

     In a meeting with your office on March 2? 1977, we
stated that we had visited about 165 farms in Iowa and
found that some conservation practices had been eliminated
or modified but that there did not appear to be a 3er'tous
problem. We also discussed certain weaknesses in the re-
views which were made to determine whether federally cost-
shared conservation practices were being maintained. Depart-
ment officials agreed to correct these weaknesses.

SCOPE OF REVIEW

     The program is administered by the Agricultural Stabi-
lization and Conservation Service. We reviewed applicable
Federal regulations and records and held discussions with
Department of Agriculture officials and some farm operators.
We selected the conservation practices to review by asking
State Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service
officials and State Soil Conservation Service officials to
identify the practices that they believed would most likely
be eliminated or not properly maintained. The Soil Conser-
vation Service provides the technical assistance for in-
stalling cost-shared conservation practices. We then se-
lected the counties to visit by analyzing various Agricul-
tural Stabilization and Conservation Service reports in
Des Moines, Iowa, to determine where such conservation
practices were widely used. The following were included
in our review.


                                                       CED-77-63
B-114833



     -- Vegetative cover (Clarke County)
     -- Liming (Clarke County)
     -- Sod waterways (Adair County)
     -- Terraces (West Pottawettamie County)

     In each county, we selected and visited a sample of
farms theat had benefitted from Federal cost-sharing assis-
tance in recent years for the specified practice. We included
in our sample all, or nearly all, farm units that had been
sold to a new owner or operator after the specified practice
was installed.

MAINTENANCE OF CONSERVATION PRACTICES

     Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service
regulations do not require county offices to designate a
lifespan for any conservation practice. County offices may
specify a lifespan or, after determining that a practice has
been eliminated or improperly maintained, may compute a life-
span for that practice and determine whether the landowner
should be required to refund part or all of the cost-sharing
assistance provided.  Under Federal regulations a new owner
cannot be held liable for eliminating practices installed by
a previous owner. Vegetative cover in Clarke County was the
only conservation practice in our review which had a specified
lifespan.

      The results of our review are discussed below.

Vegetative cover

     According to the Department of Agriculture, vegetative
cover' is a conservation practice used to protect land from
erosion and to reduce water and air pollution.   Federal cost
sharing is available for establishing new cover on unprotected
land and for reestablishing existing cover.   The Clarke Countf
Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office
specified that vegetative cover established under 1973 and 1974
funding could not be removed for 4 years after installation
and that vegetative cover established under 1975 and 1976
funding must be maintained for 6 years.

     During the 1973 through 1976 programs, 274 farm operators
 in Clarke County received Federal cost-share payments of $100
 or more to install vegetative cover. We visited 22 of the
 farms that had not changed ownership and all 18 farms that
 had changed ownership since the vegetative cover was in-
 stalled. We observed that the cover was being maintained by
 the 22 original owners but had been removed from about 60



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B-114833



acres in 4 of the 18 cases where the ownership had changed.
The county director said he could not take action to recover
part of the Federal payments in the four cases because new
owners are not responsible for maintaining cost-shared con-
se:rvation practices installed by previous owners.

Liming

     Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service guide-
lines provide that cost-sharing assistance may be used for
liming farmlfand that will be planted in legumes or perennial.
grasses to help prevent soil erosion. The Clarke County
office has adopted Federal guidelines which suggest that the
eligible cover remain on the land for 2 consecutive crop years
after the lime is applied.
     During the 1975 and 1976 programs, 94 operators received
Federal cost-share payments for liming practices in the
county. We visited nine of these farms and found that all of
the applicable fields were being maintained in vegetative
cover as required.

Sod waterways
      Sod waterways are installed on farmland to dispose of
excess water without causing erosion. The Soil Conservation
Service is responsible for determining farmers' waterway needs,
designr.n4 the waterways, and determining that the waterways
are constructed to specifications. The Adair County ~gricul-
tural Staoilization and Conservation Service office has not
established an estimated lifespan for sod waterways.
     During the 1970 through 1976 programs, 332 sod waterways
were installed in Adair County with cost-sharing assisiance
of $100 or more. We observed 67 of these waterways on 62
farms and found that sections or all of 5 waterways had been
eliminated, sections or all of 13 waterways had been narrowed
by 6 to 18 feet from their original design, and 3 waterways
in pasture fields had been badly eroding. Two-thirds of the
waterways that were not properly maintained were on farms that
had been sold to new owners after the waterways were installed.
Overall, about 18 percent of the 94,500 feet of waterways re-
viewed was not properly maintained. Regarding the elimination
of sections of sod waterways:
     -- One farmer believed the bottom area had leveled out
        enough so that part of it was not needed.

     -- A second farmer planted a section because the drainage
        runoff that used to flow through that part of the


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 B-114833


        waterway was now flowing around it.

      -- In a third case the sod had never taken hold and the
         waterway had become silted.

      -- In a fc   :th case the section had never been seeded.
      --A fifth farmer believed the sections were not needed
        because he had rece.cly installed terraces above them.

     Most of the farmers who had narrowed sections of their
waterways said that they had unintentionally encroached on the
waterways when plowing the land around them. Some of the
farmers were not aware of the specific width to which their
waterway was designed and constructed. This information was
not included in the form which the farmers signed to obtain
cost-sharing assistance.

     Three waterways were in heavily grazed areas and were
badly eroded.  Tn two cases, the farmers said that the water-
ways, constructed in 1970 and 1972, had eroded before they
could be seeded and they were never reshaped or seeded. In
the other case, the farmer said the waterway eroded due to a
neighbor's uncontrolled runoff.

      The Adair County Agricultural Stabilization and Conser-
vation Service director is planning 1o ask the operators who
eliminated waterways to repair and resod them. He is also
considering sending letters to the operators who have narrowed
or badly eroded waterways, emphasizing the importance of main-
taining the waterways at their designed width and in good
condition and requesting a written response from each operator
as ,:o his plan of action. Soil Conservation Service officials
told us that the effectiveness of sod waterways could diminish
if they are not maintained as desianed.

Terraces

     Terraces are constructed on farmland where water runoff
needs to be retarded or controlled to conserve water and pre-
vent soil erosion. The Soil Conservation Service has technical
responsibility for designing the terraces. The West Pottawat-
tamie County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation
Service office has not established an expected lifespan for
the terraces.

     During the 1971 through 1976 programs, 3.9 terrace sys-
tems were cost-shared in the county. We observed 55 terraces
on 53 farms and found that they were all being maintained.


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The owner or operator had changed since the terraces were
installed on 24 of the farms.

CONTROLS OVER MAINTENANCE
U-F CONSERVATION PRACTICES

     Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service
regulations require that a sample of at least 5 percent of
the conservation practices funded in the current year are
to be reviewed to establish whether they have been installed
and maintained. The regulations also require that, when such
reviews are macd, all previous cost-shared practices on the
farm be checked to see that they are being properly main-
tained.

      We reviewed the files at the Agricultural Stabilization
and Conservation Service offices in the three Iowa counties.
The files for Clarke and Adair counties did not identify any
maintenance problems with the conservation practices we re-
viewed. Officials in Adair County told us that they checked
to see that sod waterways were established but did not deter-
mirne whether they were maintained to their designed length and
width. They said they generally were not provided such infor-
mation. The Adair County director said that future reviews
will include a determination of whether sod waterways are
being maintained to their Cesigned dimensions.

     In West Pattawattamie County three cases are pending
where collection action is being considered because vegetative
cover was not maintained. A county official told us that
farms had been visited to check on recently installed prac-
tices but not to determine whether practices installed in
prior years were still being maintained. He said that all
future reviews will include such a determination.

     Department of Agriculture headquarters officials agreed
to remind county officials of the need to perform all required
reviews. They also agreed to remind county officials to make
farmers aware of the design specifications for maintaining
waterways.

CONTROLS FOR RECOUPING COST-SHARE FUNDS

     Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service
officials in the three Iowa counties told us that when a
farmer who received cost-sharing assistance fails to properly
maintain a conservation practice, a county committee reviews
the circumstances to determine whether and how much of a
refund should be requested.


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B-114833



     Our review of county office collection records revealed
the following.

                          Period           Number of     Total
      County             reviewed         collections   amount
Clarke               7/1/75 - 9/30/76          4         $171
Adair                7/1/70 - 9/30/76          6          443
West Pottawattamie   7/1/71 - 9/30/76          3          133
These collections were the result of either overpayments to
the farmers, or voluntary refunds by the farmers for practices
not installed. None of the collections were attributed to
disclosures made while performing reviews to determine whether
conservation practices were being maintai.ied although, as
mentioned above, three cases in West ?ottawattami:  County are
currently under consideration.

     We trust the information furnished   in this report will
serve your needs.

                              Sincerely yours,



                       ACTING ComptrolieoGeneral
                              of the United States




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