02/22/2013 13:12


                The economic benefit that Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Illinois (SWCD) provide is far greater than the amount of money that is appropriated (from our tax dollars) for their use by our Illinois General Assembly. SWCD services are essential for securing the soil and water resources on which our local and state agricultural economy is based. Their services are an important link to deliver federal funds to our local landowners.

                The local presence of District offices brings a local perspective on the best way to apply federal conservation programs. From educating homeowners on practical utilization of water to helping rural landowners save soil and improve water quality, SWCD cooperates with federal agencies to get the most benefit from the dollars spent on federal conservation programs. SWCDs provide needed information for urban and rural decision makers so that they can make wise choices that will protect people and property in the future.

                Illinois Soil and water conservation districts have suffered greatly from funding cuts over the past ten years. From a high of $8.7 million in FY 2002, the Districts have been subjected to a steady funding decline to just over $5 million, reports the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Districts in the January 2013 legislative newsletter “Protect & Conserve.”  Some districts have been able to generate local sources of money, but all have been dependent on a steady appropriation from the state. Most professional services to landowners are provided without cost – after all, they benefit us all.

                Each of the SWCDs has help from the state with funding operations including two staff persons, a Resource Conservationist and an Administrative Coordinator. The SWCD provides office services for field offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Many of the staff technical duties are the same as those performed by federal NRCS employees with whom each district shares space. A trained district employee is necessary because federal employees are not eligible to work on certain local and state initiatives.

                The cuts in state funding have resulted in more than 132 employees leaving district employment and, AISWCD points out, taking their 740 years of experience with them. The most critical loss is the experience. The technical aspect of performing as a resource conservationist or an administrative coordinator does not allow for an easy transition to a new employee. AISWCD observes that, for a Resource Conservationist to be fully productive, takes on average five years even for a college graduate. The Administrative Coordinator will require about three years.

                Benefits of conservation efforts – local, state, and federal – are easily overlooked. Take time to connect to the local efforts of your SWCD and reflect on the economic and environmental effects of keeping a strong local presence.

                This information and more can be found at


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 01/23/13 (for publication on 01/26/13 in the Journal Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at