The Sussex County Council this week agreed to consider increasing funding for the Sussex Conservation District as they discuss the 2022-fiscal-year budget, following a presentation by David Baird, district coordinator.
Baird reviewed the functions of the district at the council’s Tuesday, Feb. 16, meeting and said the council funds $50,000 each year for the Cost Share Program. He asked that it be increased to $100,000 in the 2022 fiscal year and that funding to maintain tax ditches be increased, or at least maintained.
During the past year, the County funded $125,000 for the district’s tax ditch program.
Tax ditches are organizations formed on a watershed basis to construct and maintain a drainage system. The organizations are managed by officers, according to the website at www.dnrec.state.de.us.
The website also states the tax ditch law stipulates “drainage and the prevention of flooding of lands and the management of water for resource conservation shall be considered a public benefit and conducive to the public health, safety and welfare.” Sussex County has 142 tax ditch organizations.
“This is a program that is a tremendous success. It’s a lot of those nuisance drainage issues across the county,” Baird said.
The mission of the district is to “serve the residents of Sussex County in a variety of subjects but the focus is on land and water resources throughout the county,” he said.
The district has 35 employees in departments including stormwater and heavy equipment operators. There is also a governing board whose members include County Councilman John Rieley.
There are also four elected members and members appointed by the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and the University of Delaware’s Extension Program.
The district focuses on sediment and stormwater and has a heavy-equipment program.
There is a Conservation Cost Share program that focuses on erosion control, soil health, soil quality and water quality.
In 2020, the district, a $4 million program, planted thousands of acres of cover crops, offering an incentive program that pays farmers $40 to $50 per acre.
In 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, “Things are just steadily moving forward in the District,” Baird said, adding that there have not been long delays. The district didn’t slow down its work and wasn’t closed for any period of time. “We just kept on as business as usual, taking safeguards to protect our staff and people we are serving,” he said.
Changes made due to the pandemic included a stormwater workshop series for developers, homeowners’ associations and residents concerned about managing stormwater, various workshops and online panels for farmers replacing Field Day.
“We have gone virtual, and it’s been well-represented and well-received by the ag community here in Sussex County,” Baird said.
“Thank you for all you guys and girls do. Drainage is a big issue. The more it rains, the bigger an issue it is. I’m sure we can work with you,” Council President Michael Vincent told Baird.
When Tuesday’s meeting began, Council Vice President John Rieley had joked, “Can I make a motion to get the rain to stop?”
“Sure,” Vincent replied, smiling.