Conservation Programs Need the Standards Oversight Council

NRCS technical standard 313 describes a number of liner options available for manure storage facilities that are designed to prevent groundwater pollution.

NRCS technical standard 313 describes a number of liner options available for manure storage facilities that are designed to prevent groundwater pollution.

By Perry Lindquist, Waukesha County Land Resources Division Manager

While not flashy, conservation practice technical standards are the foundation of a myriad of federal, state and local conservation programs.  Based on the latest research, technology and field experiences, technical standards guide the design and installation of conservation practices, striking a balance between costs, practicality, and protecting our land and water resources.

Almost 20 years ago, Wisconsin formed the Standards Oversight Council (SOC) to coordinate the development of uniform, high quality technical standards to be used for all conservation programs in the state.  SOC oversees a very open process that encourages input into the drafting of technical standards.  SOC regularly assesses technical standards needs and coordinates an interagency work plan to focus limited resources where they were needed the most.  Through a contract with WI Land & Water, SOC has quietly and successfully coordinated the development or update of hundreds of agricultural and urban conservation practice technical standards since the mid 1990’s.

It is easy to assume that this type of interagency cooperation just happens, but that was not always the case.  Agencies inherently have competing legislative mandates, policies, goals and program deadlines.  Prior to SOC, the development of technical standards lacked local input or support, and were often inconsistent between programs, which led to interagency conflict and confusion.  In fact, the current lack of interagency conflict on this issue is a good indicator of SOC’s success.

Widely used and accepted technical standards instill confidence in conservation program accomplishments and accountability in public expenditures.  Using the same technical standards regardless of the funding sources saves tax dollars and prevents landowners from getting caught up in agency turf battles.

Under an interagency agreement, SOC is primarily funded by NRCS, DATCP and DNR, with many counties also voluntarily contributing annually.  However, the Governor’s proposed 2015-2017 budget removes SOC funding in the DNR’s budget.  Interestingly, state law also mandates that DNR and DATCP both “specify, by rule, a process for the development and dissemination of technical standards” [s. 281.16 Wis. Stats.].  SOC has proven to be a cost-effective way for multiple agencies to share in the costs of meeting this mandate.

Conservation practice technical standards support the implementation of state nonpoint pollution performance standards.  On the agricultural side, this applies to numerous practices aimed to minimize sediment and nutrient runoff from cropland and livestock farms.  On the urban side, it applies to state standards aimed to minimize runoff pollution and flooding from construction site sites and developed urban areas.  All technical standards are widely used in the public and private sectors to ensure compliance with various permits and to provide solid technical services to their clients.

DNR is a critical member of SOC, and their financial support of SOC is greatly magnified by a multi-agency approach.  In short, Wisconsin’s conservation programs need SOC, and SOC needs DNR’s support.

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