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Soil, water conservation district waiting for release of state funds

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

While Illinois governor continues to work on adding services for state residents, some agencies are struggling to survive because Rod Blagojevich has failed to released their already promised allocations.

The Fayette County Soil & Water Conservation District is among those agencies, having received less than a quarter of their budgeted amount.

To date, the SWCD has been given $14,000, or about 18 percent of its appropriated amount, for this years operations. The state budget includes $88,000 for the conservation district.

The money was appropriated. Were just waiting for the governor to release the money, said Tony Pals, resource conservationist for the Fayette County SWCD.

The money may not even be there, because the states predictions on revenue may be exceeding whats going to be there.

Late last week, Republican legislators including state Sen. Frank Watson of Greenville and state Rep. Ron Stephens of Greenville called on the governor and Democratic legislators to make funds available for the states soil and water conservation districts.

Illinois has been blessed with some of the most productive land in the world, Watson said, and its the soil and water conservation districts around the state who help ensure that this finite resource is used in the best possible manner, so it can be preserved for future generations.

Agriculture is our No. 1 industry, and the districts play a key role in helping to protect this vital part of our state economy, Watson said.

At this point, the Fayette County SWCD Board of Directors has addressed the funding shortfall by deciding not to mail out printed versions of its newsletter, which is produced six times a year. That newsletter will now be available only online, at the districts Web site, www.fayettecountyswcd.com.

This district also will probably not hold our Conservation Field Day this year, Pals said. During that field day, conservation experts present programs on natural resources to school children in the county.

Also on hold is the districts participation in conservation practice programs, Pals said. Those include the Conservation Reserve Program, through which the district provides technical and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner.

Pals said the districts main priority is serving as the leader in conserving land used for crops. But, he emphasized, it also works to aid entities and individuals in their conservation efforts.

In 2007, Pals said, the district spent nearly $40,000 on installing conservation practices through the Conservation Practices, Streambank Stabilization and Restoration, and Nutrient Managmement program.

It also aided the National Resource Conservation Service in the survey, design, layout and construction supervision of conservation practices installed through various federal programs. Those programs, he said, provided more than half a million dollars in conservation cost share and payments to Fayette County landowners.

Further, he said, the SWCD assists the NRCS in the development of conservation plans on highly erodible land in the county, which keeps the owners of that land eligible for more than $7 million in farm program payments through the federal Farm Service Agency.

In recent years, the district has worked with the city in getting funds for needed riprap in the area of the Vandalia Lake dam.

Also important for the district, he said, is laying the groundwork for continued conservation work by future generations.

Conservation of the land is important, but educating our children is right behind that, he said. We have to give our kids a conservation ethic.

Each school year, Pals said, the district is able to reach more than 1,800 local students through its various conservation programs, which also include a soil judging contest and Ag in the Classroom presentations.

As it waits for the release of Illinois Department of Agriculture funds, the local SWCD office cannot consider cutting staff; staff cuts were put in place about a decade ago. Currently, the SWCD staff includes only Pals and Administrator Coordinator Karen Sanders.

At a recent meeting, the SWCD Board which is made up of five volunteer directors asked us what we want to do, Pals said.

We decided that we want to operate as normal until the money runs out, and right now, that looks like December, Pals said.