CPESCs Are Major Contributors to Soil and Water Conservation District Efforts in Illinois

Nov. 1, 2006
Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) have played a major role in planning and applying soil and water conservation measures in Illinois for over 60 years. There are presently 98 SWCDs in the state. Each district has on staff a resource conservationist whose position is partially funded by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). These are technically trained field people who work directly with landowners and other decision makers within their county. SWCDs have been putting conservation practices on the land for many years.In 2001, IDOA recognized the importance of the Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control (CPESC) professional certification for the SWCD field staffs. The Department of Agriculture and individual SWCD boards of directors felt certification would add to the creditability and stature of their employees when they worked with the increasingly complex technical issues that erosion and sediment control involved. The IDOA encouraged SWCD staff to pursue getting their CPESC certification. They agreed to pay the expenses involved in doing so. For several years, we held exam review sessions and sponsored CPESC exams. Currently, there are 27 SWCD resource conservationists who are CPESCs.Most Illinois counties are very rural. SWCD workload entails administering state cost-share programs and assisting the Natural Resources Conservation Service in several of the USDA programs. Farmers are the primary customers for these programs. The CPESC certification, although not necessary to carry out these duties, is a beneficial credential in that it adds recognition and creditability to the staff. Even in rural counties, there are land-use changes that require erosion control expertise. The CPESC certification has added professional stature to the SWCD staff when working with developers, engineers, and village councils on urbanizing sites.However, where the most impact has occurred is in the rapidly urbanizing counties where SWCD staff provide technical reviews on areas where land-use changes are proposed. These Natural Resource Inventories are provided to units of government to assist decision makers in minimizing negative effects of urbanization on the environment. In 2004, eight SWCDs entered into an agreement with the Illinois EPA to provide inspection services on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase II stormwater permitted sites. The selection of these rapidly urbanizing counties was partially based on the SWCD having a CPESC on staff to conduct and administer the program. This program has resulted in developing sites applying more sound soil conservation programs than they would have been able to had no one been available to instruct, guide, and sometimes force the developer to comply. The mandated stormwater pollution prevention plan for a site frequently does not adequately address the needed erosion and sediment control measures.SWCD programs and activities were not well known to developers, engineers, and most municipalities when this program started in 2004. The CPESC national certification was instrumental in getting the recognition and creditability that was necessary. As CPESCs reviewed NPDES permits, the recognition that they are experts in the field of erosion and sediment control immediately put them on equal (or higher) footing with the engineers, contractors, and other environmental firms that prepared and supervised the installation of erosion and sediment control measures on subdivision sites. Professional engineers quite often lacked expertise in designing and planning the needed erosion and sediment control measures on a site.The CPESC certification has helped Illinois SWCDs become a more creditable and influential participant in the application of sound soil erosion and sediment control measures on all land-use activities.