With everything we are dealing with in the world today, we tend to overlook the solutions in our own backyard. From improving water quality to solving our drainage problems, there are many things we can do to improve our neighborhoods and overall environment right here at home.

That’s where the Delaware County Soil & Water Conservation District can help – the problem is, not many county residents even know they exist.

 Delaware County landowners signed a petition to the state in the spring of 1956 to create the Conservation District, voted on the measure that fall, and by January of 1957 the Board of Supervisors had been elected and the District was organized.

 For the last 56 years, the District has served as a resource for Delaware County residents, protecting our drinking water, agricultural lands, and natural resources. Whether we live on a farm or in downtown Muncie, the work of the Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is important to all of us.

Some of the SWCD’s most recent projects have included stabilizing and reclaiming the eroded shoreline next to the swimming area at Prairie Creek Reservoir with native vegetation, creating the 27 acre Craddock Wetland Nature Preserve out of an abandoned industrial site with several local partners, and a joint venture called the Conservation Lands Project. For this project, the SWCD teamed up with the Delaware – Muncie Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Delaware County GIS Dept. last year to conduct a survey of land in the area. The purpose was to identify tracts of prime farmland which should be protected from development pressure, potential recreational opportunities, and areas in need of conservation assistance for future planning.

Currently, the SWCD is working on the Rails to Trails Project that will link the Cardinal Greenway to Prairie Creek Reservoir with recreational trails. Communities with plentiful outdoor recreational opportunities are more able to attract employers, particularly those with higher paying jobs.

District Coordinator Debra Carpenter also serves as the group leader in the Indiana On-Farm Network nitrogen research program with farmers from Delaware, Madison, Blackford, and Randolph counties. Past projects have included an energy efficiency in agriculture program, the installation of green roofs at Minnetrista and Ball Hospital, rainbarrel and urban gardening workshops, field days and notill/cover crop meetings.

One of the largest conservation issues affecting Delaware County landowners, particularly in urban areas, is stormwater runoff. Carpenter points out that residents of Muncie and Yorktown get their drinking water from the White River. Because the river eventually collects the runoff from most of the county (an area known as a watershed), keeping sediment, trash, and contaminants out of it mean keeping those things from going down storm drains, washing off roads, and ending up in our drainage ditches.

Homeowners can help to reduce runoff by channeling stormwater from downspouts into rain gardens installed for that purpose rather than into the street.

According to Candace Kindt, Ball State Senior in Natural Resources serving an internship with the SWCD, rain gardens are built in naturally low areas of a yard and planted with native vegetation that doesn’t mind having wet feet. The soil and plants act as filters to clean the water and send it down to an underground aquifer instead of dumping it and the street grime it picks up on the way directly into a storm sewer feeding into one of our many rivers, creeks, and drainage ditches. This can reduce flooding after a rainstorm while recharging our aquifers – the drinking water source for many county residents. It also reduces the amount of contaminants entering the surface water that urban residents drink and helps to eliminate the need for untreated sewage and water to be released into our waterways because volume exceeds capacity of our treatment plants. For agricultural lands, the SWCD works closely with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help farmers protect their fields from erosion and the waterways that pass through their farms from surface runoff.

The District has resources that can help with designing a rain garden, as well as larger projects like building a pond, putting in a windbreak, or converting the “back 40” to wildlife habitat. Along with assisting landowners, both Carpenter and Kindt say that the District needs to be active in the local schools. “We would love to have teachers contact us”, Carpenter said. “We can supply them with educational materials or come in and do classroom presentations”. The SWCD also has presentations for civic groups and clubs.

The Delaware County SWCD has an office in Muncie and welcomes everyone from local farmers or concerned residents to those who just want to know more about conservation.