The fiscal year 2022 budget, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday, once again allocates $14 million toward Partners for Conservation, which funds key conservation programs at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources.
Of that, nearly $1.1 million has been dedicated to the state EPA for administering the NLRS, the first time such funds have been dedicated.
Lawmakers also doubled the amount dedicated for soil and water conservation districts to $15 million, including $3.5 million for costs associated with nutrient loss strategies.
"I would say it’s a step in the right direction; it’s a pivot away from stale, stagnant and declining funding, which has been the story for conservation in the state for the past two decades," said Max Webster, Midwest policy manager with American Farmland Trust.
"It’s not to the level where we need to start seeing progress made on a lot of our goals, but it’s the right signal at the right time," he said.
The NLRS, adopted in 2015, guides the state’s efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads in its lakes, streams and rivers. The strategy also overs a "comprehensive suite" of best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban and agricultural runoff.
Illinois is among many states in the Mississippi River basin with such strategies, as runoff is considered a major contributor to the large hypoxic "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
But for years, state funding and — consequently — matching federal funds have lagged. And the state is nowhere close to meeting its 2025 goals. In some cases, nutrient loads have increased since the adoption of the NLRS.
Funding for each program only runs through fiscal year 2022.
Legislation proposed earlier this year would have ramped up funding to $25 million by 2027, a target Webster said advocates will try to get back to next year.
"That’s kind of what we’re looking towards, is can we get back to that point $25 million a year target for this kind of work? And in that, be able to successfully leverage additional matching dollars from the federal government and private sources," he said. "And that’s how we start getting to a scale necessary to make some serious progress on nutrient loss reduction goals."
Photos: State and local officials depend on farmers to lead effort against field runoff