Conservation fared well in the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, as lawmakers renewed the Partners for Conservation program for another year and nearly doubled Illinois’ conservation budget to $15 million. That’s up from $7.5 million in 2020 and 2019.
“It’s important to note how important of a change this is,” says Grant Hammer, executive director of the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts. He adds the entire appropriation for SWCDs sat at $7.5 million in 2019 and in 2020 — slightly less than 1997’s appropriation level of $7.7 million.
“In other words, SWCDs have grappled with the natural resource and environmental issues of today’s modern world on fewer dollars than those of 1997,” Hammer explains.
Breaking down that $15 million, $8.5 million will fund SWCD operations, and $3 million will fund cost-share programs for farm operators. Legislators also added $3.5 million in new funding for implementing nutrient loss reduction strategies.
The Partners for Conservation fund is the financial vehicle in Illinois that funds various conservation programs, including those within Illinois EPA, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Agriculture and SWCDs.
The budget impasse years were tough, Hammer says.
“That put a lot of stress on the conservation delivery infrastructure,” he says. And it put a lot of importance on getting a bill passed in 2021.
Hammer says while the previous version of the Partners for Conservation program provided funds for 10 years (known as Conservation 2000), this version was schedule to sunset on June 30, 2021. Last year, AISWCD supported a bill that would have extended it, but the bill was tabled due to COVID-19 and lawmakers’ three-day session.
“Time was working against us this year to renew the program, and luckily we got it done,” Hammer says. “The districts and conservation fared really well.”
Conservation advocates will be back at the table again next year, however, because lawmakers only renewed the program for one year. “We’ll have to look at extending it for a longer time,” he adds.
Here’s a look at the latest conservation funding in Illinois:
2019. Illinois General Assembly passed Fall Covers for Spring Savings program, a pilot cover crop reward program. Initial funding was for $300,00 for 50,000 cover crop acres. Appropriated $7.5 million for Partners for Conservation ($4.5 million for SWCDs and $3 million cost share).
2020. Conservation advocates helped draft legislation to renew Partners for Conservation beyond 2021, fund SWCDs and add nutrient loss reduction strategies to the program. The bill languished during COVID-19. Appropriated $7.5 million for Partners for Conservation ($4.5 million for SWCDs and $3 million cost share).
2021. Legislature directed $15 million for Partners for Conservation ($3 million for cost share, $8.5 million for SWCDs, $3.5 million in new funding for Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy implementation).