Ugly Truth About State Support For Conservation in Indiana

Ugly Truth About State Support For Conservation in Indiana

Cuts to Clean Water Indiana would be slap in face to those who've worked to get to this point.

Rumored cuts to the Clean Water Indiana program by the state legislature in the next budget aren't setting well with those true believers in conservation. It also shouldn't sit well with those who helped get Indiana into the soil conservation business, long after most neighboring states were already contributing lots of state dollars to help slow soil erosion and protect water quality.

Until T by 2000 was passed in the mid-80s, the state relied on farmers doing their own work, or receiving federal dollars from various conservation programs that helped cost-share on waterways, filter strips and other practices. Up until then, the state didn't even have a Division of Soil Conservation. There was a State Soil Conservation Board, but its role was limited.  

Meanwhile, many surrounding states were already pouring tons of their own dollars into state-backed conservation efforts. Some of these efforts helped local districts or groups of districts in those states partner with other entities, including the federal government, to get more mileage out of conservation dollars.

T by 2000 was primarily funded by a cigarette tax, still in place. Task forces within conservation circles, mainly within the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, stepped out boldly, at one point advancing a proposal asking for more than $10 million over two years.

The legislature two years ago did provide $500,000 per year for Clean Water Indiana in additional funding. The dirty secret, though, is that there is a difference between passing legislation that calls for someone to get money, and appropriating the funds. The bureaucracy in Indianapolis can hold up funding if it so chooses and it chose to do so with at least some of the Clean Water Indiana money. So while legislators got credit for advancing a good cause, the good cause never really got the full effect it was supposed to get.

Don't expect any such hiccups if the cuts are approved. Instead, expect cuts to be made swiftly. It's an unfortunate reality about how politics works, especially in days of tight budgets.

Hoosiers worked hard to get T by 2000 passed. It was that bill that created the Division of Soil Conservation, now within the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. The trail to getting the state to invest and do its share toward saving soil and improving water quality in this state has been long. Now is not the time to let the progress that has been made slip backwards.

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