The Blackford County SWCD was nominated for the 2021 District Showcase in recognition of their last ten years of cumulative conservation activities. Because these activities have been completed following the Indiana Conservation Partnership strategy, the Blackford County SWCD is a great case study of how the ICP works together effectively to solve conservation challenges in the State of Indiana.
Multiple agents, from a variety of agencies, have been collaborating within the county to execute the strategy: i.e. iterative phases of problem identification, strategic thinking, and creative problem solving. This process, facilitated through the local apparatus of the SWCD, has been enhanced through the state and federal network of agencies such as IDEM (planning), CWI/Purdue Extension (education) and DNR/NRCS (implementation) respectively.
During this ten year time period, the Blackford County SWCD has been a partner in two major IDEM funded watershed planning projects in the region, the Salamonie and Mississinewa River Watershed Projects. These initiatives have helped bring over $500,000 in both planning and implementation phases to the region. Straddling the watershed boundaries, the Blackford County SWCD has been active in both watershed projects ensuring that the entire geographic area of the county is under a robust planning process. Because of the presence of these IDEM funded activities, and through supplemental educational efforts by District Staff and respective watershed coordinators, the SWCD has help foster local interest in the adoption of agricultural Best Management Practices (described in impact below).
Local Governance Collaboration
Because Blackford County is a smaller population cohort, there is a higher ratio (than in some more urbanized counties in the state) between farmers/producers, the average citizen, and elected officials. This closer ratio of producers to governance perhaps enables the District to address significant agricultural needs such as a rural infrastructure through local funding sources.
Cumulative Drainage Funds
For example, in 2021, County Commissioners in Blackford County made a choice to increase the percentage of allocated tax dollars to the cumulative drainage fund. The Office of the Surveyor is working with the SWCD to ensure future drainage improvements concurrently address upstream challenges such as surficial runoff (by implementing/promoting filter strips, grassed waterways, and other stormwater related BMPs.) These project partnerships ensure maximum benefit and leveraging when done in ways permitted by state statute and respective grant regulations and guidelines.
A key example of this partnership between local drainage/governance and SWCD initiatives is the Walnut Creek Stream erosion project. This is a problem area identified through Watershed Planning activities that is being addressed through engineering and construction funds secured through the Department of Natural Resources Lake and River Enhancement Program.
Drainage Infrastructure Planning
Well drained farmland is critical for both the economic and environmental benefits to the region. As a key economic driver for East Central Indiana (recognized in assessed land values and other economic indicators in farm statistics) agriculture is the backbone of economic sustainability and quality of life in the region. In fact, agricultural contributes significant amount of resources and percentages to the respective County Budgets and Schools. The SWCD is working in partnership of the office of the surveyor, and drone pilots at Purdue Extension to identify more drainage issues specifically on legal drains and or road and culvert infrastructure for pursuit of emerging resources and dollars.
These types of local, state, and federal partnerships are critical to address the infrastructure liability facing the United States of America and the next generation of agricultural producers. ICP lead partnerships and collaborations between Economic Development Partnerships are equally important and the Blackford County SWCD and their partners are looking to the future in hopes of solving complex public infrastructure issues though emerging relationships with the ARP and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
The SWCD is guided by a business plan that incorporates the recommendations and guidance of the EPA approved Salamonie and Mississinewa River plans and incorporates recent studies being completed on rural infrastructure planning.
Agricultural Best Management Practice promotion and adoption has dramatically increased in the past 10 years through outreach activities including IDEM and ISDA funded direct mail, field days, and annual gatherings. To that end, the District Activities in the implementation of the Salamonie/Mississinewa River Watershed Projects, allocating of cost share funds through Clean Water Indiana, and partnership with through the NRCS funds have had direct impacts on the agricultural landowners in Blackford County.
Through these collaborative projects/initiatives, Blackford County has seen a significant ten year reductions in phosphorus, sediment, nitrogen, and E. coli. When averaged on a per acre basis, Blackford County is one of the leading counties in the State of Indiana for load reduction and adoption of conversation practices such as cover crops. This has occurred despite the limited local funding that the District receives (a factor of relative population/tax base) compared to most Districts in the State of Indiana.
When reviewing the ten-year trend line published by the ICP conservation reports (most recently 2020), and landowner adoption of reported practices, Blackford County has seen a significant increase since 2014. These district activities have culminated in multiple thousand dollars of on the ground practices. Quite noteworthy when averaged on a county, per acre basis and compared to the rest of the State of Indiana.
Through coordination with the NRCS, “these on the ground practices” have spanned various EQIP categories including, soil health, production enhancement, drainage, water quality, grazing, and ecological practices respectively.
Another example of local partnership is Wilderness Park. The Parks Department and local SWCD agents, worked together to secure state grants to match local community foundation funds, enabling the development of a four acre pollinator habitat that is open to the public. More information about Wilderness Park and project partners are summarized on our website.
Private Sector Impact
Watershed planning recommendations are geared towards meeting state and federal recommendations and standards. The target load reductions will require multiple millions dollars of investment. Blackford County SWCD recognizes that this cannot be achieved solely through government funded initiatives, but will require private sector actions. The SWCD funded “cost-share funded projects” continue to function as demonstration and awareness building roles. Recent data demonstrates that private sectors adoption rises in relationship to public cost-share funded initiatives.
These cumulative partnerships have had great impacts to the environment, as documented in the 10 years averages in ICP documentation. The coordination and relationship between the different conservation partnership agencies makes the Blackford County SWCD a showcase example of the ways that these collaborative efforts can benefit a community.
The district not only celebrates its past but looks towards the future. As these EPA/IDEM funded watershed projects come to completion the SWCD will need to seek new forms of funding. It is critical that the state and regional community understands this great work that is being completed in East Central Indiana that that is finds new, creative, and sustainable ways to support these initiatives. By following the ICP strategy these projects managers and SWCD staff have delivered a great return on investment for both the local, state, and regional dollars. It is critical that these programs continue in parts of the state that have low and declining populations and yet maintain strong and robust contributions to the State economy through Agriculture.