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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 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.