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Our Clean Water Partners: Meet the Kosciusko SWCD

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

TWF Posted by: TWF

The Upper Tippecanoe River Watershed holds a lot of water in its 256 square miles–more than 60 lakes, many creeks and streams, and the Tippecanoe River. At TWF, it’s our mission to protect those water resources, but we can’t do it alone. That’s why we work with many partners at the local, state, and national level. Together, we coordinate our efforts and combine our strengths to solve water quality problems, educate the public, and so much more. 

Kosciusko is one of three counties partially located in our watershed, and our friends at Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District are longtime partners with a shared commitment to water quality. Since 1957, they’ve worked to protect soil and water resources in their county through outreach, education, and direct support for healthy, sustainable land use practices. Learn more about their work, our partnership, and how you can get involved!

What is an SWCD?

By Indiana state law, every county has a soil and water conservation district. That means SWCDs are local units of state government. They are largely funded by their counties, with additional support from state, federal, and other funding sources. 

“SWCDs are intended to be a local voice at the state and federal level,” says Melinda Miller, executive director of the Kosciusko County SWCD. Each district shares its community’s unique needs and concerns with legislators, helping shape big decisions that impact soil and water resources close to home. In turn, SWCDs bring state and federal initiatives and programs back to their home communities. 

To that end, the Kosciusko County SWCD shares an office with several federal conservation agencies: the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

“Conservation is about wise use of the land,” explains Amanda Heltzel, district education and outreach coordinator. “We protect our natural systems so we can use them for many generations. That includes responsible agriculture practices, which is mostly what we focus on.” 

What does an SWCD do?

Like other soil and water conservation districts, Kosciusko County SWCD tailors its programs and services to local needs. The county contains abundant lakes and streams, and much of the surrounding land is used for agriculture, one of the area’s largest industries. That’s why the SWCD team works closely with local landowners, from farmers to home gardeners, promoting and supporting practices that protect soil health and water quality. 

Soil Health specialist Tashina Lahr-Manifold helps large-scale producers find conservation methods that work well on their farms and connects them to financial and technical assistance. “We want to help move them one step in the right direction,” Lahr-Manifold says. She also organizes outreach events, like the upcoming Soil-Con. Aleah Southworth, Conservation Program field technician, supports small-scale producers and home gardeners with programs like Urban Healthy Soils. She represents the SWCD on county planning and development committees, ensuring building projects have minimal impact on soil and water resources.

Amanda Heltzel leads the district’s vibrant education program, which serves county residents of all ages. Heltzel provides outdoor learning opportunities for local schools, helping K-12 students develop conservation ethics and form personal connections to local land and water. Kosciusko SWCD also hosts an Indiana Master Naturalist class for adults who want to learn about and help care for the county’s natural resources.

How do TWF and Kosciusko SWCD collaborate for clean water?

“The Kosciusko County SWCD (along with the NRCS) was one of our first partners and remains one of the most active and important,” says Lyn Crighton, executive director of The Watershed Foundation. “They’ve helped us connect with farmers since the beginning.” Working together, TWF, KSWCD, and the NRCS seek solutions to farmers’ challenges, including funding opportunities, explains Crighton. In the last five years alone, the three organizations have collaborated on five grants, winning more than $1.36 million to support agricultural conservation efforts.

Kosciusko SWCD is a member of the Clean Waters Partnership, a TWF initiative that brings together local organizations whose work touches on water quality. KSWCD helped shape and implement a Watershed Management Plan, and they participate on various CWP committees, helping craft innovative pollution solutions, outreach programs and materials, and more. In turn, TWF Watershed Conservationist Brad Clayton serves as an associate supervisor for the SWCD, and Crighton shares her knowledge about water resources for Kosciusko’s Indiana Master Naturalist program. TWF and KSWCD also collaborate to offer fun, educational programs, from student rafting trips to Hoosier Riverwatch training to Snapshot Water Monitoring Day.

Whether assisting farmers, sharing resources, or co-hosting events, TWF and KSWCD support each others’ efforts in as many ways as possible. By working together, we make a greater impact!

Want to get involved? Here are a few ways to show your support. 

  • Attend an SWCD board meeting. Board meetings typically take place on the first Tuesday of each month. They’re open to the public, and community input is appreciated.
  • Become an Indiana Master Naturalist. The IMN program is designed for adults who want to learn more about Kosciusko’s rich natural resources, including lakes and streams. (And Master Naturalists are among TWF’s dedicated volunteers!)

We’re so thankful to the Kosciusko Soil and Water Conservation District for their continued support, collaboration, and commitment to local land and water.