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Great Lakes soil and water conservation districts face growing responsibilities
Report calls for $80 million boost in regional conservation funding
Gary Overmier
The Great Lakes Commission

Ann Arbor, Mich. -- An additional $80 million a year is needed to adequately protect and manage the soil, water quality and related natural resources of the Great Lakes basin, according to a newly released analysis of Great Lakes conservation districts.

The report, compiled by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and the Great Lakes Commission, provides a look at the changing role of conservation districts in improving and managing the natural resources of the Great Lakes basin, along with an assessment of what they need to carry out that mission.

"Local conservation districts are at the forefront of the effort to improve and conserve the natural resources of the Great Lakes region," said Joe Newberg, chairman of the National Association of Conservation Districts' Great Lakes Committee. "It is important that their needs are known and the region can speak with one voice to obtain the necessary resources to carry out this important task at the local level."

The study found that more than $80 million in additional annual funding is needed for Great Lakes conservation districts to carry out their mission of improving and conserving the natural resources of the basin. The funds would be used to hire professional staff, purchase equipment and provide incentives for landowners to improve and conserve the natural resources on their land.

Titled An Analysis of Conservation Districts' Changing Responsibilities: The District Role in Conserving and Protecting Great Lakes Land and Water Resources, the report is based on a survey of the 209 conservation districts (sometimes called soil and water conservation districts) in the Great Lakes basin. The report categorizes conservation district programs and funding needs, and makes recommendations based on those findings.

The survey found that, over the past 10 years, the traditional role of conservation districts in controlling soil erosion has been supplemented by a growing emphasis on water quality issues. Although agricultural programs remain their most significant component, conservation districts are placing increasing importance on hydromodification, urban and forestry issues as well.

Another trend has been toward watershed-based resource management, an approach increasingly taken by federal and state agencies. However, the survey found that conservation districts are often hampered from such an approach by jurisdictional lines that do not follow watershed boundaries.

Other areas addressed by the survey include water quality monitoring, groundwater management, land disposal, resource recovery, mining, communications and outreach, partnerships and personnel resources.

The survey is a follow-up to a similar survey conducted in the early 1990s. Survey partners include the Great Lakes Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Task Force, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The entire report and survey questions, as well as a brochure summarizing the survey results, can all be found at

The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Samuel W. Speck (Ohio), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency created by state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of state legislators, agency officials, and governors' appointees from its eight member states. Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a "Declaration of Partnership." The Commission maintains a formal Observer program involving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) is the national voice of America's 3,000 local conservation districts. By working with landowners, organizations and government, conservation districts have helped to protect our soil, water, forests, wildlife and other resources for more than 60 years.

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