What do Soil and Water Conservation Districts Do for You?
There are 97 soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) serving the entire State of Illinois. Most were organized as single county units, four were organized as two-county units, one, North Cook, covers just the north half of Cook County and the McHenry-Lake SWCD is the result of a consolidation that occurred in 2011.
The SWCDs were first organized to address the agricultural problems of soil erosion. Since their initial creation in 1938, their role has expanded to include water quality improvement, air quality improvement, plant health maintenance and wildlife habitat development. Their role has also expanded to include urban soil erosion control and water quality improvement.
• Soil and Water Conservation Districts work with the Illinois EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers to monitor, inspect and assist with permits in urban and development areas. Since the districts do not have enforcement authority, they serve an educational function to help developers meet their permit requirements.
• Soil and Water Conservation Districts developed the Illinois Urban Manual (IUM) to assist developers and county and municipal zoning administrators. The IUM contains standards for installing and maintaining soil erosion control and water quality protection practices on development sites.
Many county and municipal zoning and planning offices require developers to adhere to the recommended practices contained in the IUM
• Soil and Water Conservation Districts install practices that protect groundwater recharge areas and help reduce flooding in both rural and urban areas.
• Soil and Water Conservation District programs are capable of adding more than $205 million to the State’s economy every year, but need fully functioning staff to meet that mark.
• Soil and Water Conservation Districts have no taxing power and must therefore rely on General Revenue Source funds appropriated by the General Assembly. In fact, the SWCDs are the only unit of government in Illinois that does not have the capability to raise an operating tax. SWCDs have suffered greatly during the past four years as their administrative appropriations have dropped nearly 70% since 2008 to the current $2.485 million proposed for FY13.
• 34 SWCDs, more than 1/3 of all of the SWCDs, currently have vacancies due to employees leaving for more stable employment or been laid off due to insufficient funding.
• 24 additional SWCDs have reduced employees’ hours to as little as 20 hours per week in an effort to retain trained employees using the meager funds received in FY11 and FY12.
• $9.7 million is necessary to fill existing vacancies, train new employees, restore employees’ hours to full time and provide for health and liability insurance. This is the minimum funding level needed to allow the SWCDs to function at an effective level sufficient to fulfill legislatively mandated core functions of protecting Illinois’ land and water resources.