Local soil and water districts awarded over $2.3 million for water quality initiatives

Last Updated on February 8, 2024 by Indiana Department of Agriculture 

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the State Soil Conservation Board awarded $2,313,287 in matching grant funds to 26 projects within soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) and soil health organizations through the Clean Water Indiana program.

“Providing farmers and landowners with tools and funding to keep our Indiana waterways clean and their soil structure healthy is key to keeping Indiana agriculture thriving,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development. “This funding will allow 48 organizations across 26 projects to improve their local water systems, keep their soil healthy and keep their communities thriving. Last year’s increase in Clean Water Indiana funding from the general assembly is already making a lasting impact.” 

The Clean Water Indiana program is administered by the state’s soil conservation board. The program, led by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), provides financial assistance to landowners and conservation groups that are working to reduce runoff from non-point sources of water pollution, whether it’s on agricultural land, urban areas or eroding streambanks.

Once received, districts can use the funds to partner with other counties or address specific needs within their jurisdiction. Some examples include participating in a cost share program, hiring staff, providing technical assistance, implementing cover crop incentive programs or increasing watershed capacity.

Gene Schmidt is chair of the State Soil Conservation Board and is looking forward to seeing the work done on the grassroots level by the soil and water districts. The Clean Water Indiana Grants Committee is Ray Chattin, Brad Dawson and Jane Hardisty. 

Clean Water Indiana (CWI) is managed by ISDA’s Division of Soil Conservation and funded by a portion of the state’s cigarette tax. Projects can be up to three years in length and grantees could apply for any dollar amount that was necessary to complete the project. Funded projects ranged from $10,000 to $300,000. In addition to CWI funds, each grantee is required to produce a match for their project, which can be cash or in-kind. Projects requesting staffing were required to have a 25% match for that component, while all other project areas required a 50% match. Many SWCDs will target producers not currently served by other conservation programs.

Below is the list of awardees, their project titles and overviews.

Cass County SWCD – $48,600

Administrative Assistant Staff Position, Part-time, for Cass Co. SWCD- Cass County SWCD currently has one employee who was hired to do both administration and outreach. In order to continue to maintain and build current programming and introduce new programming and outreach into the community additional staff support is needed. Funds will be utilized to pay for a part-time administrative assistant. This new position will allow the Cass Co. SWCD to continue to build momentum and grow to better support the county.

Clark County SWCD – $23,968

Save Our Soil Initiative- The District will purchase a new 10-ft. no-till drill to assist landowners in improving the quality of their soil and water resources. The drill will be equipped with a small seed box as well as a grain box that will allow it to be used to plant soybeans, legumes and pollinator plots. This drill also offers the capability to fold the tires behind the drill body for ease in hauling on narrow, rural roads. In surveying drill users, the SWCD has found they prefer the larger drill because it requires fewer passes and therefore less time in seeding.

The district currently conducts a no-till drill rental program. This project will help keep sediment out of waterways, keep topsoil in place, improve organic matter, and keep sheet, gully and rill erosion from occurring.

Clinton and Carroll County SWCDs – $36,000

Bi-County Soil Health Systems Cost-Share Program- The Clinton County SWCD seeks to improve the soil health on agricultural lands in a two-county area, which will ultimately result in improved water quality in our local streams. The partnering SWCDs will collaborate to develop a cost-share program that will focus on practices that build and maintain soil health such as cover crops, transition to no-till, nutrient management planning, integrated crop management, gypsum application and other practices consistent with conservation cropping systems.

Daviess County SWCD– $76,957

Education Coordinator Position- The Daviess County SWCD has had a part-time Education Coordinator for over 25 years. This position has done many great things including a 4th grade Farm Fair, education outreach in schools and actively participating with the Washington Stormwater Departments MS4 outreach and rain garden. This position has been an integral part of the success of the district. As agriculture production continues to provide many daily necessities for our ever-growing population, there is an increased need to educate the public on the importance of conserving valuable natural resources. The primary goal of the position will be to increase public awareness and impact a larger area of the county through a variety of education programs.

Decatur, Franklin and Ripley County SWCDs- $15,750

Keep the Lights On Pollinators: Fireflies, Hummingbirds, Butterflies Oh My! – CWI funds are being used to form a partnership between the Decatur, Franklin and Ripley SWCDs by installing pollinator habitats, replacing invasive shrubs in the community and educating the public on the importance of native pollinator habitats. Through the grant, the districts will provide native pollinator seed to landowners to convert part of their ground to native plant gardens.

Additionally, the project will work to replace invasive shrubs on residential property. Homeowners can remove an invasive shrub and replace it with a native pollinator friendly shrub by working with a local nursery. The landowner will be reimbursed for their native shrub by the project. This will help reach small-scale homeowners that might not have the land to install a traditional pollinator habitat.

DeKalb County SWCD- $100,000

Cedar Creek Stream Stabilization- The DeKalb County SWCD, in partnership with DeKalb County Cedar Creek Drainage Board, City of Auburn and Parks & Recreation Department, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Maumee River Basin Commission (MRBC) will utilize CWI funds to complete a stream bank stabilization project on Cedar Creek in Eckhart Park where the creek banks have been eroding and sending sediment downstream. The overall purpose of the project is to restore degraded stream banks and protect the surrounding lands, which will improve water quality and reduce pollutants in Cedar Creek. The project consists of stabilizing approximately 750 linear feet of Cedar Creek.

Elkhart County SWCD- $150,000

Water Quality of Life- The Storm Water Alliance Management Program, or SWAMP, has been providing Elkhart County farmers with Elkhart County dollars to implement conservation practices including: blind inlets, cover crops, filter strips, grade stabilization structures, grassed waterways and exclusion fencing. The purpose of this grant is to improve the SWAMP program and offer additional funding for our local land users and expand into urban areas.

Fulton County SWCD- $145,461

The Nature Exploration Conservation Station (NECS)- This grant will allow Fulton County SWCD to add a part-time District Administrator. The new administrator will be responsible for the operation and management of the SWCD office and the preparation and delivery of conservation education programs. This grant will also add a brand new outdoor mobile classroom that will allow residents of all ages to learn about the local environment, understand and make informed decisions regarding environmental impact and connect residents to technical and financial assistance for implementing conservation practices and technologies.

Gibson and Pike County SWCDs- $72,000

Gibson County CWI Invasive Technician- The district plans to hire an experienced Invasive Species Technician to address, support and improve non-native invasive education and eradication in Gibson County. The technician’s main duty will be re-organizing and running the Pike and Gibson CISMA (Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area). In addition, the invasive species technician will inventory invasive species hotspots in the CISMA as well as assist with field days, workshops and demonstrations promoting soil health and water quality.

Hamilton County SWCD- $70,900

Hamilton County Invasive – The Hamilton County Invasive Partnership (HIP) is the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) for the county and is fully administered by the SWCD. Created in 2019, HIP has a demonstrated record of successfully implementing educational projects, volunteer workdays and delivering technical assistance.

The project outlined in this grant focuses on delivering the financial resources needed for landowners to initiate invasive species management efforts. This project also includes a series of educational efforts dedicated to specific messages for target audiences in the county.

Johnson County SWCD- $15,995

Franklin College Invasive Species Internship- Johnson County SWCD requested funds from the Clean Water Indiana (CWI) Program to provide financial assistance to Franklin College Biology students. This will be accomplished through providing stipends for semester-long internships offered by Johnson County SWCD to help with various projects related to invasive species management and promotion of native species. Internships will be offered in the fall, spring and summer sessions during the Franklin College academic calendar.

In addition to monetary compensation provided by CWI funding, each student will earn a credit hour towards their degree and invaluable professional experience working with natural resource professionals including Johnson County SWCD staff and partnering organizations.

Knox County SWCD- $73,000

Watershed Planning and Soil Health- The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is an ArcGIS toolbox developed by USDA that uses high-resolution geo-spatial data to identify places where conservation practices may be needed to control erosion, reduce runoff, stabilize streambanks and protect water quality. The ACPF identifies and addresses high-risk areas, thus enabling conservation efficiency and effectiveness, but the ACPF is not widely used in Indiana because it requires a degree of skill in ArcGIS and it takes significant time to condition the data layers and run the analysis.

Knox County SWCD’s conservation technician and watershed specialist will analyze all 36 of Knox County’s 14-digit watersheds using the ACPF. The data generated will be used to promote Farm Bill conservation programs and to guide LARE and IDEM watershed planning and implementation projects. The SWCD will also offer to train staff from other SWCDs and watershed groups so that they can use the ACPF for their watershed projects and other conservation efforts.

LaPorte County SWCD- $259,570

Native Habitat for Pollinators Stewardship Program- The grant funding will provide:

  • Project cost-share (participant reimbursements including land prep and planting material and native vegetation management),
  • Retaining a full-time county conservationist as project lead, technical support and staff/ participant educator
  • Hiring two seasonal restoration management technicians for its vegetation management/invasive species control efforts, and
  • Purchasing necessary equipment for restoration management activities that will all be required to meet its project goals

Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts- $300,000

Urban Soil Health Program- Urban Soil Health Program (USH) was launched in 2021 to support urban and small-scale producers across Indiana. The program is designed to serve all districts, all conservation partners and all communities. This model ensures that there is equitable access to the program from districts and partners who wish to engage. There is a strong connection with ICP partners and conservation programs. The USH Program cultivates locally led initiatives and provides state-level support and coordination amongst traditional programs.

Lawrence County SWCD- $62,000

Cultivating Future Land Stewards in Lawrence County- The Lawrence County SWCD will hire a contract Conservation Educator to help educate and inspire the next generation of landowners and producers. The Conservation Educator will assemble and implement K-12 educational conservation programs that promote and support the stewardship of natural resources through increased knowledge and understanding of natural resource conservation topics. The focus of this project would be to strengthen local conservation awareness in the school districts and other events in Lawrence County. 

Marshall and St. Joseph County SWCDs- $86,250

Marshall and St. Joseph Counties Landowner Invasive Management Cost Share Program- A cost share program through the districts for invasive species removal. The land would be managed by the applicant who would agree to follow set guidelines. Three-year programs would be used for the 10 applications for 10 acres or over of woodlands, and the management plans for under 10 acres could be more flexible, depending upon the ability of the landowner’s desires and ability to assist/participate.

Martin, Daviess and Orange County SWCDs- $135,282

Tri County Invasive Species Specialist – This project will increase invasive species education, outreach and assistance for landowners in three southern Indiana counties, and build district capacity for the Martin County SWCD. The Martin SWCD will use project funds to hire a full time Invasive Species Specialist to cover Martin, Daviess and Orange counties. 

The specialist’s duties will include, working closely with landowners to control invasive species on private lands. Including providing technical assistance, site visits, written invasive management plans and referrals to partner agencies as needed.

Monroe County SWCD- $22,000

Controlling Soil Loss – No-till Drill Purchase- Funds will be used to purchase a new no-till drill to fulfill landowner requests for use for planting cover crops, establishing new pasture, inter-seeding for pasture improvements, native grass for prairie establishments and developing native plantings for pollinator habitats. This drill will increase the ability of Monroe County landowners to install and re-seed existing practices in our county such as grassed waterways, pollinator habitats, filter strips, field borders and wildlife corridors. The SWCD hopes to see additional acres of cover crops in smaller fields as well.

Newton County SWCD- $62,222

Increasing Soil, Water and Natural Resource Education Capacity in Newton County- The purpose of this project is to increase, improve and sustain high quality soil, water and natural resource education and outreach efforts in Newton County by hiring a full time educator. An additional staff member will help achieve the district’s goals to deliver quality programs, education, technical and administrative efforts to address the SWCD’s highest priority resource concerns including surface and ground water quality, soil erosion and loss of health/function and invasive species. This funding will provide a portion of the District Educator salary, support the new employee’s travel and account for program support to ensure project success.

Pike County SWCD- $159,000

Soil Technician and Cover Crop Project- This will be a three-year program to employ a full-time, experienced Soil Conservation Technician, to address, support and improve conservation in Pike County and address soil health and water quality through a cover crop cost-share program.

The technician’s main duty will be assisting SWCD staff with advertising the cost-share program, meeting with producers and assisting them on technical aspects of cover crops, and field check tracts enrolled in the cost-share program. In addition, the technician will also help with the district’s conservation programs, re-enroll field checks, working closely with the District Conservationist to ensure participants are complying with signed contracts. 

Spencer County SWCD- $10,000

Spencer County Ground Cover Incentive Program- The SWCD desires to promote the further use of cover crops throughout the county and reduce the continued degradation of soil health by offering a cover crop cost share program. Cover crops are the single most cost-effective best management practice the district can promote that reduces sediment runoff, reduces loss of nutrients, protects water quality of our district and downstream communities, reduces the growth of weeds in fields and increases field productivity and yields.

The district will target highly erodible land (HEL) first with this program, preventing further erosion on already sensitive soils and slopes. More than 60% of the district soils can be classified as HEL.

The Nature Conservancy- $82,500

Indiana Cover Crop Premium Discount Project- Over 85% of cropland acres carry crop insurance, and linking resilient practices, like cover crops, to crop insurance has the potential to catalyze conservation adoption and keep Indiana as the epicenter of soil health. This project mirrors statewide efforts previously established in both Illinois and Iowa, and it provides eligible participants a $5/acre premium discount on the following year’s crop insurance invoice for every acre of cover crop enrolled and verified in the program.

Farmers participating in the project will be awarded a $5/acre insurance premium discount from USDA-RMA through normal crop insurance processes. Only acres in cover crops (absent other state or federally incentivized cover crops) will be eligible for the premium discount. Applications reviewed and confirmed by ISDA will be forwarded to the USDA-RMA for processing premium discounts on crop insurance premium invoices for their cash crop. Being a first-time cover crop user is not a requirement but will be given priority for funding. The 2024-2025 Cover Crop Premium Reduction Program will support 30,000 acres of cover crops.

Union and Fayette County SWCDs- $75,000

Cover Crop and Invasive Incentive Program- Union and Fayette County SWCD are partnering on the Cover Crop and Invasive Incentive Program. This program will provide funding to private landowners and parks to start or continue practicing the planting of cover crops and/or removal of invasive plant species and the reintroduction of native plants.

The program provides funds for cover crops to both counties at $12,500 per year and invasive species plant removal at $12,500 per year.

The first portion of invasive funding will go to the parks for tools and invasive plant removal. The second portion will be available to landowners in cash match for removal of invasive species plants on private land. SICIM will be providing a technician for invasive species reports and assistance with public educational programs. Union and Fayette County SWCD will be hosting educational events on identification and removal of invasive plant species including why removal of invasive species is beneficial to water, soil and natural habitats.

Vermillion and Parke County SWCDs- $175,000

Bridging Conservation Gaps: Empowering Communities for Sustainable Agriculture- The Vermillion County Soil and Water Conservation District (VCSWCD) and the Parke County Soil and Water Conservation District (PCSWCD) plan to foster sustainable land management practices while improving local ecosystems and agricultural practices.

In Vermillion County, the SWCD recognizes the critical need to ensure safe drinking water for all residents. The district aims to address water quality concerns affecting agricultural and residential areas by initiating a county-wide well water testing program. The SWCD will identify potential contaminants through rigorous testing and provide necessary guidance to mitigate health risks.

Parke County’s agricultural legacy is integral to its identity. However, gully and rill erosion present challenges that impact soil health and water quality. To counter this, the SWCD proposes comprehensive strategies to reduce erosion, including effective conservation practices, reforestation and the establishment of protective cover crops.

Warrick County SWCD- $24,432

No-till drill purchase to facilitate conservation- The Warrick County SWCD will purchase a no-till drill, overall width 9’, planting width 8’, to include both a standard grain (jumbo grain & small seed) box and a standard grass (fluffy box & small seed) box. The SWCD will also purchase a cultipacker for use with smaller ATVs.

The SWCD sees a large window of opportunity to assist producers and operators with conservation practices by making this new drill available, thus furthering its business plan goal to increase acres of native grass/forbs plantings. It also furthers the State Soil Conservation Board’s business plan goals tying to resource concerns of water quality improvement and soil health/degradation. The purchase of a cultipacker will benefit pollinator plots that are broadcast-planted on a more urban scale. This will ultimately help improve sediment and nutrient reduction on both urban and agricultural lands.

Washington County SWCD- $30,150

Washington County No-Till Drill Purchase- The Washington County SWCD will purchase a 10 ft. no-till drill with a main seed and grass seed attachment. This drill will benefit land users in the area by providing an affordable and reliable drill for use. This project will address the critical natural resource issues of water quality, erosion control and soil health by helping to reduce sediment loss and increase cover crop adoption on crop acres. This will positively impact soil health by decreasing soil compaction, increasing infiltration, and decreasing runoff of nutrients and sediment to waterbodies.

To see additional details on the grantees and awards, please click here.

SOURCE: News release from Indiana Department of Agriculture