Sierra Gets Update On Soil & Water District

Brett Upthagrove addresses Sierra

The newly reorganized Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District is working to get itself known, but it is still struggling without permanent staff, Brett Upthagrove, the panel’s chairman told Ancient Islands Sierra Thursday night.

The district, which is run by an elected five-member board who serves without pay, was founded in 1945. It had been inactive in recent years and was on the verge of being abolished when Upthagrove persuaded some local people from a variety of backgrounds to run for seats on the board in the 2016 general election. They took office early last year.

The agency traditionally aided farmers and other landowners in improving water use and soil management, reflecting the agency’s origins that date from the Dust Bowl conditions of the 1930s caused by poor land management.

Even without staff, the Polk district has secured the approval to host the statewide land-judging contest next year, which will bring 280 students from all over Florida to Polk County to compete, Upthagrove said.

He said the board is working on hiring a field technician, which they hope to have on board by this spring.

That technician will offer advice on irrigation efficiency.

That position is funded through a grant, Upthagrove said.

When the board was active, it received some funding from the County Commission.

One service the agency provided was to provide soil maps that showed the location and types of soils on proposed development sites. The soil information is now only briefly mentioned in staff reports and there are no longer any maps.

After the board was revived, the County Commission, led by Commissioner George Lindsey, decided it would not provide any funding for the agency. None had been requested at the time.