In early February 2019, Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Technical Director Tyler Knutson was welcomed by the warmth of San Antonio, TX by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) membership and national partners of the organization that gather to organize and communicate on the work and priorities of over three thousand SWCDs in the nation and territories. For Knutson, this trip was about networking and professional development.
The networking and listening to staff and elected officials from places like Taos, New Mexico, a popular skiing destination to Allegheny Conservation District, home to metropolitan Pittsburgh, PA, provided a unique and invaluable experience to bring back to serve the people of Yellow Medicine SWCD.
Through strategic enrollment in sessions, a wide array of skills, ideas, perspectives, and questions were brought back home as well. Lessons in social media, social marketing (there’s a difference, believe it or not), consumer psychology, agronomy, water quality and quantity trends, and the list could go on of things that were examined in depth. Something shared was how things go in Minnesota, a jealousy is always quickly formed outside of our state with conservation professionals as we discuss Minnesota’s Clean Water Funds.
This program is supported by the 3/8 cent sales tax Minnesotan’s imposed on themselves during the worst economic times in recent history. There isn’t a similar program that allows stakeholders to voluntarily access funding to do the work of clean water anywhere else in the nation. A highlight that struck close to home was a tour of the facilities that take in water from the San Antonio River, pipe it 150’ deep for three miles through a 24’ wide tunnel to lessen flooding impacts on the downtown area and regulate the water level of the world famous river walk channel through the city. This system is a testament to the ingenuity and investment needed to combat flooding of infrastructure for decades regardless of the cause.
As of March 4, 2019, Knutson has also been named to the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) Legislative Committee. This statewide organization promotes SWCD priorities developed from the grassroots level and amplifies them in St. Paul. Knutson is excited to work with other members, top notch staff and a contracted firm’s staff to shine a light and navigate the legislative process for SWCDs.
The priority receiving the most attention this year is addressing a long standing lack of stable, simple, and repetitive funding to implement state law’s mandates. SWCDs have expectations from farmers, ranchers, homeowners, corporations in downtown Minneapolis, the owners of apartment buildings, state agencies, elected officials, fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and all taxpayers in our areas and the state. Offices around the state have received supplemental temporary grants to expand capacity with no guarantee to continue outside of two years. SWCDs are the only level of government with a board elected by the voters every November election day, being a subdivision of state law, with statutory and contractual responsibilities, not to mention the moral and ethical requirements staff and supervisors on the board face every day, that do not have the authority and power to levy a tax for funding themselves.
This year’s efforts, among other work, are to restore and maintain dedicated state funding to SWCDs to keep do their work and to change state law to give SWCDs an option and a public process to go through to levy property taxes or allocate project fees with stakeholders and taxpayers involved all along the way. Not all SWCDs need or will use this proposed authority because of adequate local and state funding combinations, but some can’t do the work they are required to do by law. As you, as a citizen, converse with Legislators on your issues, you shouldn’t have to beg them to fund SWCDs, but you can tell them of the effect your erosion remedy, cover crop incentive, educational programming, AgBMP financing, or other SWCD work has had on your livelihood.
The mission of the Yellow Medicine Soil and Water Conservation District is to provide technical, financial, and educational support to its residents. For more information on the SWCD and its programs and how they affect you contact the SWCD at (320) 669-4442 x 3. Our website also has a lot of information on all of our programs and services. Visit www.yellowmedicineswcd.org to learn more and stay up to date on all Yellow Medicine SWCD has to offer and what we are working on. You can also like us on Facebook!