award-photoThe Highlands Soil & Water Conservation District has been named the Top Soil & Water Conservation District in the state. The Association of Florida Conservation Districts presented the prestigious award to the District as a part of the Annual Meeting held in Ocala last week.

The award recognizes outstanding commitment and success of the local District for its efforts in conservation of natural resources, not only in Highlands County, but throughout the entire state. Established nationwide in the late 1930s, as a direct result of the Dust Bowl disaster, there are 58 Districts in Florida who partner with multiple agencies and land owners to provide funding and technical assistance in a variety of conservation efforts.

Clegg Hooks, Deputy Director, with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services – Office of Ag Water Policy (FDACS-OAWP), presented the award, describing the Highlands District as one of the most active and effective Districts FDACS-OAWP partners with. Their work with FDACS-OAWP includes managerial support for implementation of Best Management Practices (BMP) on agricultural operations statewide with a concentration in Highlands County. The Highlands District Executive Director, Susie Bishop, was honored to accept the award on behalf of the Board stated, “This is an accomplishment our entire team is proud to receive. Being recognized for all the work we do to serve the agricultural industry and protect natural resources in our county is very exciting and much appreciated.“

Soil & Water Conservations Districts (SWCD) are governed by Supervisors elected in the General Election, who serve, but do not receive any compensation for their public service. The current Highlands Board of Supervisors is: Scott Kirouac-Board Chairman, Dr. John Causey-Vice Chairman, Doug Deen-Secretary/Treasurer, Pamela Fentress and Steve Smith. Hooks commended the Board for their dedication and continued support of natural resource conservation efforts. Hooks also shared with the banquet audience the expansiveness of the work of the Highlands District, including an Agricultural Mobile Irrigation Lab, management of a statewide Agricultural Weather Station program, on-going support and partnership with the Highlands County Board of County Commission, direct involvement with the citrus renovation program, wide spread BMP projects, creation and management of Growing in the Heartland Community Garden, youth education programs and even the development and use of a strategic work plan.

Chairman of the HSWCD Board, Scott Kirouac explained, “Many citizens don’t realize the importance of having an active SWCD, but they are the backbone of the many programs working to conserve our natural resources while still being able to grow and produce the food and fiber we all need to thrive. In the unique state of Florida water is of greatest concern, so many of the programs the HSWCD manages focuses on the quantity of water used and quality of water in agricultural operations.”

Bishop explained, “In addition to the conservation of water and natural resources, the large amount of dollars the District manages for cost-share projects has a huge economic impact in our county and state. For example, in previous years we managed six million dollars in cost share funding and using an economic impact ratio of 4 results in 24 million dollars downstream in our county and surrounding counties. So what we do benefits industries far beyond agriculture.”

When asked about this recent award, Supervisor Pamela Fentress stated, “I am proud to serve as a Supervisor on the HSWCD Board representing agriculture producers in our area, as well as the natural resources we all value. Out District strives for accountability and transparency in every program we manage. This award is a testament to the dedication of our Board and staff, both comprised of the strong leaders needed to accomplish this level of proficiency and professionalism. The honest, hardworking and dedicated District staff combined with these same attributes in the numerous agencies we partner with is the reason this award was received. A job well done by a great team!”