Tahlequah Daily Press

September 21, 2012

Conservation, water quality, soil erosion focus of district meeting

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Administrators and members of the Cherokee County Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service met on Thursday to discuss a cost-share program to identify areas of improving water quality and the reduction of soil erosion.

Conservation districts statewide have been gathering feedback from local growers and livestock producers over the past two years on how to use state-appropriated funds on a local level, said Cherokee County Conservation District Chairman Garland Phillips.

“We have collected, throughout the state, the idea that we want to have local-led conservation; meaning that when we get any money, we let you help to decide what we spend it on,” said Phillips. “The legislation gives us a little bit of money from the state, and so this year we get $10,000. So what we do is we meet and ask you what would you like to see done on a cost-share program. Now the governor contacted us about a month ago, and said ‘I’m going to let you have this money two months early, and the reason is we’re in the midst of a drought.’”

Those in attendance at the meeting received a survey from the CCCD and the NRSC to select the most important conservation practices needed most in Cherokee County. Four areas of soil and water conservation practices were to be selected and then ranked one through four, with one being the most important.

“[Governor Fallin] wanted us to particularly look at items that had to do with the drought,” said Phillips. “Well, you can’t dig a pond right now because the ground’s too dry. There’s not a lot you can do. So, we are going to have in the program some means of helping you with a well or a pump.  And, of course, each year we have some amount for programs for ponds. We’ll sit down and figure out how much we want to allocate for each problem area, and then once we’ve done that, we’ll figure out – depending upon what it is – how much money we can afford to give to each person [in the program]. That’s what we’ll do with the $10,000 once we get the input from you.”

Farm Service Agency Executive Director Gary Rogers said those waiting to hear the Farm Bill has passed will need to be patient.

“I wish I could sit here tonight and tell you that Congress has passed the Farm Bill, but I can’t. I’m sorry. We’re still waiting,” he said. “What we’re telling everybody is call us once a month until we hear. I think we’ll get it, but I can’t promise it until we get it. In our three county areas – Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah counties – we put out almost $2.5 million last year on that program. I don’t know what form we’ll get this time or how they’ll do it. I will tell you what I know, but it may not be that way in the end. The Senate has approved their version of the farm bill. The House hasn’t approved their version of the Farm Bill, yet.”

Other programs presented in the meeting included Rural Development, the 319 project, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the Streambank Stabilization Project.