Skip to main content

About Highlands SWCD

Our Mission

To provide leadership to help people conserve, improve and sustain the natural resources and environment of Highlands County, Florida


Conservation Districts were created nationwide, generally one per county, as a response to the Dust Bowl that occurred in the late 1930′ and early 1940’s. The Dust Bowl was a result of non-sustainable farming practices that heavily impacted the land and therefore soil conservation became the focus of these local groups, as well as the newly created federal agency, the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), known today as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).  Conservation districts were formed in Florida as a subdivision of state government under the Florida Conservation law of 1937 to implement locally led conservation.  Conservation Districts and the NRCS work closely with each other, sharing resources and personnel, and usually office space, to accomplish the goal of conservation at a local level.  The actual work performed by a conservation district depends on local needs.  The work is directed by an elected board of supervisors who meet monthly to discuss and direct District activities.  Traditionally the board of supervisors (for Districts nationwide) has been composed of members of the agricultural community, though more recently District boards are comprised of members from diverse backgrounds, particularly in urban areas.  

Conservation Districts and the NRCS are NON-REGULATORY agencies functioning to provide assistance to farmers and the public in general to accomplish conservation goals.

Go here to view a list of Statutes
Soil & Water Conservation Districts are governed by Chapter 582 of the Florida Statutes.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the State entity that oversees the Soil & Water Conservation Districts statewide.

The Soil & Water Conservation Districts are considered special districts in the State of Florida; Chapters 189 & 190 of the Florida Statutes address Special Districts and have legislation to govern ALL special districts.

The Highlands County Soil and Water Conservation District was created in 1942 and originally was known as the Istokpoga Soil Conservation District, covering only the area south and east of Lake Istokpoga.  Katherine Waggaman was instrumental in the creation of the Istokpoga Soil Conservation District and as a board supervisor, she was the first woman Conservation District supervisor in the United States.  The District was expanded in 1946 to cover the entire county and was then renamed the Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District. 

Early District activities followed along the lines of activities occurring throughout the state to reroute water and drain lands for development.  The first watershed project was the East Placid Chain of Lakes, which began construction in 1956 and was completed in 1958.  Additional watershed projects include canal and structure construction on Fisheating Creek, Upper Josephine-Jackson Creek and in the Istokpoga Marsh.  The projects were conducted primarily to ease flooding concerns around homes and in agricultural lands.  The Istokpoga Canal was also constructed through the Conservation District.  All of these projects were accomplished with engineering support and assistance provided by the Soil Conservation Service with co-sponsorship by the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners. 

The Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District has developed a long-range plan to address several sets of specific goals:

Educational goals: 
  • maintain and improve youth and adult educational programs
  • apply for grants that further various conservation education programs
  • develop and maintain good media relations to inform the public regarding water quality and natural resource issues
  • publicly recognize the contribution of volunteers
  • conduct youth contest and land judging contests annually
Goals specific to agriculture: 
  • assist in the implementation of irrigation water management, providing free irrigation evaluations to agriculture systems
  • assist in incorporation of nutrient and pest management to Conversation Plans planning and implementation of Resource Management Systems on range and pasturelands
  • assist with implementation of best management practices
  • serve as the fiscal agent in a partnership with FDACS-Office of Ag Water Policy to assist agriculture producers with the implementation of best management practices
Natural resource protection and water quality goals: 
  • promote resource protection through land use and land management, presenting information to interested groups
  • participate in a working group of experts in water quality and quantity from the public and private sectors to develop a long-term regional approach to solving water quality and quantity issues
  • participate in a working group of experts in water quality and quantity from the public and private sectors to develop a long-term regional approach to solving water quality and quantity issues
Political leadership goals: 
  • promote the wise use of natural resources through leadership with special emphasis on resource protection, land use and land management
  • formulate plans to interact with other state and local agencies and boards to cultivate cooperative funding opportunities
  • participate in rallying political forces to protect the natural resources of Highlands County and local control over their use
  • devise and implement programs and projects to minimize loss of our waters to other regions of the state and to protect and enhance local water quantities
Service Area 

The Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District serves all of Highlands County in the area of the conservation and stewardship of our natural resources and manages programs for the entire state of Florida.

District Map - Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District (