Every few years, Missouri gets enough rain to cause extensive flooding from the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. In the spring of 2019, precipitation caused flooding to easily pass federal flooding thresholds, and large amounts of damage to occur. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)- Natural Resources Conservation Service has a program available to fix eligible damages to property. The United States Congress funds the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program to aid in removing sediment and debris from drainageways and ditches, streambank protection near public facilities, and removing logjams that can cause major problems if not dealt with. Not fixing these issues can cause millions of dollars’ worth of crop losses and damages to public roads, houses, and infrastructures.

“In the bootheel, especially, drainage is necessary for quality of life. It’s not only about croplands, but residences, places of business, and people traveling through. Getting them repaired is critical,” said Mark Nussbaum, the head of the USDA team tasked with assisting drainage and levee districts following the 2019 flooding.

Many drainage districts throughout Missouri needed EWP support in the wake of the flooding.

For their Damage Survey Reports and aid applications to be processed, districts must be registered under a database called the System for Award Management (SAM). This is maintained by the federal government and makes sure the right amount of money is sent out to the right people. In the past, the SAM registration was one of the last essential steps to receive help from the EWP program. This gave sponsors of districts plenty of time to wade through the complicated application. This year, however, SAM was the very first step in applying for aid.

“The signup period is only 60 days, and when that door closes, it closes pretty hard. It took a couple of weeks to get the word out, and by the time we found out, we had about four weeks to get sponsors through the SAM process,” Nussbaum said.

Receiving aid from the EWP program was critical for drainage and levee districts. However, they could not get through the SAM process alone. Nussbaum recommended sponsors utilize the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at the University of Missouri Extension, with whom they had previous experiences. They worked with Willis Mushrush, who assisted sponsors in getting through the application process as quickly as possible. He immediately got a system together and kept track of where each district was in terms of the SAM registration. There are many steps with different requirements, including registering with the IRS and going through the DUNs system.

“Quite frankly, [SAM] is confusing. By the time you get through it, you know what you need to get done, but by then, you’re almost out of time,” Nussbaum said. “Mushrush knew the ins and outs of everything, and we learned a lot from him. Not only was there a process, but there were a number of unwritten rules or things we had to learn the hard way that guided us through.”

Mushrush was directly responsible for assisting 18 sponsors from five counties through SAM. These districts requested a total of $12.4 million to repair flood damage. This covers almost 400 miles of damaged drains in Missouri. Had these districts not been repaired, it would have caused over $50 million in damages to crops and public infrastructure.

“As a program coordinator, I have a lot of things to worry about every day. Our SAM efforts were successful because of Mushrush. I’ve received glowing reports from sponsors [about him],” Nussbaum said. “I don’t know if we could have done it without Mushrush.”