“My cabin never leaks when it doesn’t rain” is an observation from an old Stephen Foster song. Human nature makes us more prone to solving obvious problems than looking around to prevent problems.
Focused on solving the problems of the dust bowl days of the 1930s the Soil Conservation Service (now NRCS) and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) were created. Agriculture was in the hands of private landowners and producers. The welfare of all citizens required that these landowners and producers change their management practices. We supported these agencies with our tax dollars in order to provide the technical knowledge landowners needed to apply conservation practices adequately and we all benefited.
Conserving soil and protecting water quality continues to be a challenge. The gains made in conserving soil and water are still largely in the hands of private landowners. Best management practices now in place must be continued and extended. Maintaining soil and water quality continues to be in everyone’s best interest. That is what makes it distressing to know that the long established Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts are threatened because of reduced financial support from our state.
Because of their grass-roots structure, SWCDs focus State, Federal, and not-for-profit grant funding on local needs. NRCS provides office space and technical assistance and the SWCDs provide local office and additional technical staff with a Board of Directors to direct funding and monitor local projects. Together NRCS and SWCD provide the technical knowledge so that we can be assured that project funding is well planned and effective – staff services and the oversight of the SWCD Board make sure that your tax dollar is spent wisely, not wastefully. Noteworthy is the fact that, on the average, SWCDs return to local and state economies $23.47 for every $1 invested.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts are faced with Illinois State funding shortages that will curtail their operation, if not close District offices entirely. You may not have noticed that there is a problem. Many Districts have committed to keep operating at full stride until their funds are depleted. In other words, you haven’t noticed the “cabin leaking!”
Agriculture is important to Illinois’ economy and conserving soil and water is essential to maintaining our agricultural achievements, our health, and our economy. Many Illinois agencies have stories very similar to Soil and Water Conservation Districts. All of these cuts in services have long-range consequences. When we begin to notice the “cabin leaking” and soil and water quality have deteriorated, restoration will be a long, difficult and costly burden for future generations. Whatever your concerns, let your state elected officials and legislators know that you care. Now is the time to speak up.
Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 08/18/10 (for publication on 08/21/10 in the Journal-Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at email@example.com