07/30/2012 09:05

The dust bowl days and the drought of the 1930s gave birth to the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) across the United States. And the Districts continue to provide local education efforts and technical services to conserve soil and water resources essential to our well-being.

                Many statistics about our present drought are given as “averages” over the time that records have been kept. Averages don’t help us much when we are struggling with the drought of this summer. The July 2012 update “Protect and Conserve” from the Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (AISWCD) explains it this way: “Unfortunately, it doesn’t average out. Plants, including trees, grass, garden vegetables, and agricultural crops are finding it difficult to find sufficient moisture on their own to remain green and growing. Plants with deep roots seem to be doing better for the time being but if they can’t find water, either through rainfall or watering, they may begin to suffer as well.”

                SWCD finds this perfect weather for work on areas that are normally wet. Landowners planning practices such as streambank stabilization, wetland restoration, wetland creation, and the like can proceed with construction without having to worry about standing or flowing water. These practices require establishing vegetative ground cover as part of the project. Any seeding done with the ground as dry as it is probably will not survive.

                SWCDs have faced this problem before. AISWCD reports: “Whether [SWCDs] decide to use a temporary seeding with a drought tolerant crop to help control erosion until a more permanent seeding can be established or decide to try something different, the technical knowledge they possess will enable the SWCD staff to find a way to work with the property owner. Staff will make sure the money the owner paid for the project isn’t wasted and the intended purpose of the project will ultimately be carried out.”

                SWCDs face another challenge, a drought of funding.  Operational dollars come from the State. AISWCD reports on Illinois SWCDs, “Since 2002, SWCD funding levels have plummeted by more than 56% for all funds and nearly 70% for administrative funds. Without some relief, we believe that lack of funding, not weather, will finally stop conservation work in 31 SWCDs by January 1, 2013.”

                The Stephenson SWCD employs two people who work closely with the professional staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Stephenson SWCD Board has passed a budget that will sustain it through this fiscal year (to June 30, 2013) expecting some State funding, counting on continued support from Stephenson County of $25,000, and some fund raising activities as staff time allows.

                You can let your Illinois State legislators know how important SWCD is to you, the community, and the county.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 07/18/12 (for publication on 07/21/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois)  Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org