The Senate Agriculture Committee held commissioner hearings this morning for the Soil and Water Conservation Commission (SWC). Senator Tim Corder gaveled the hearing open at 8am, and asked all the producers in the room to stand. He thanked them for attending, and reminded the audience that they won’t be voting on the candidates today.
Mr. Richard Bronson was first to address the committee. Mr. Bronson said it was a true honor to be appointed by Governor Otter, and told the Committee, “Water and soils across Idaho are more important than ever, as we live in a hungrier world.” He also stated that Idaho agriculture has eased the current recession, especially in the smaller communities. Mr. Bronson was highly complementary of the individual soil and water districts stating that they have been the leaders in conserving water and Idaho’s natural resources. Mr. Bronson then took questions from the Committee.
Senator Jeff Siddoway asked Mr. Bronson about the relationship between the districts and the SWC. Mr. Bronson said the SWC serves to benefit 50 local districts throughout the state. The SWC’s sole mission is to provide the districts with technical support and funds so local districts lead conservation measures. The next question came from Senator Pearce. He asked what the biggest challenge will be for the soil conservation districts over the next two years. Mr. Bronson answered that TMDL’s will be one of the largest problem we have to solve to protect Idaho water for Idaho.
Senator James Hammond asked what kinds of projects districts doing in regard to TMDL. Mr. Bronson said districts can create sediment ponds, for example, to help clean up water. However, even a project cleans up to 90% of the sediment in the water, the quality of the water may not look like it’s 90% clean. Senator Hammond had a follow-up regarding reliable funding sources for districts, and where reliable funding sources may be in the future. Mr. Bronson said the state gives $2.3 million to SWC today. Local districts then leverage state funds to bring in millions of dollars from local sources, federal sources, and grants. This helps producers and puts vital projects on the ground. The state investment is hugely beneficial to the state of Idaho.
SWC Chairman Bill Flory was next to speak before the Committee. He gave a brief introduction, and spoke about how his farm reflects his passion for conservation. Senator Melinda Smyser asked Mr. Flory to discuss his biggest contribution to SWC. Mr. Flory said that it was supporting the passion of our local, county and state partners work for conservation. SWC employees in the counties and districts have done an excellent job of supporting clean air, water and soil in Idaho.
Senator Tim Corder asked Mr. Flory about the vacancy in SWC staff, and about plans to fill the position or not. Mr. Flory stated the full-time staff is at 15 people, and the new position would assist the workload of the SWC. Senator Jeff Siddoway had the final question for Mr. Flory, and asked him about the consolidation of Mud Lake and Jefferson SCD last year. Mr. Flory answered that he hopes it achieves administrative efficiencies and savings to put additional conservation efforts on the ground.
Mr. Dwight Horsch gave a historical background on his 101 year old farm in Aberdeen, and how his grandfather turned a marshy area into a prime place to grow crops and a prized homestead. Currently, Mr. Horsch is developing a conservation easement on American Falls Reservoir. Mr. Horsch said he’s helped to build a strong SWC over the past 5 years, and all five commissioners know who puts the work on the ground: the local supervisors and their staff. Our position and attitude is to support that effort.
The last commissioner to speak before the Committee was Roger Stutzman. Roger farms in Twin Falls County, served as a supervisor on the Balanced Rock SCD and a director on IASCD. He told the Committee that a district supervisor volunteers his time, not for financial benefit, but to take care of natural resources. A bottom-up, non-regulatory approach will continue as long as we have strong districts. For the dollars invested, it’s amazing to see the return. Last year alone, a combined local, state, and federal efforts lined up $60 million in projects over the next several years. These are good for conservation, good for local communities, good for water and good for soil.
The hearing ended a bit before 9am, and we headed over to the Soil and Water Conservation Commission meeting.