The mission of the Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is to provide leadership and assistance in the proper use and management of soil, water and related natural resources in Orange County. As part of this effort, the SWCD applied for and received a 319 Grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to fund the development of a Watershed Management Plan for the Lost River and Dry Branch-Lost River Watersheds.

The SWCD recognizes the unique drainage that occurs in the karst areas of the Lost River watersheds is more sensitive to the abundance of nutrients and sediment within the system. Karst landscapes move water more quickly than other types of drainage and thereby bypass the natural filtration of nutrients and sediment occurring in other non-karst watersheds. Because of this, the SWCD hired a watershed coordinator in February 2011. The watershed coordinator began water quality monitoring on the Lost River and its tributaries as part of the study to write the management plan. The water sampling concluded that phosphorus, nitrogen and E.coli levels exceeded target levels in almost every testing period.

In response to these findings, the SWCD set up a steering committee comprised of stakeholders from many diverse backgrounds who have land in the watershed. The steering committee meets monthly to set the direction of the project and to assist with the development of goals and action steps for a future implementation grant through IDEM to put conservation practices on the land. This second 319 grant for implementation of conservation practices, if received, is expected to start in 2014.

One of the highlights of the watershed project has been the development of an Envirothon Team for one of the local high schools. The watershed coordinator serves as the advisor for the group. The Envirothon Team is made up of all girls and calls themselves "The Lost Girls." The Lost Girls helped organize and participate in stream clean-up days, water quality monitoring through Hoosier River Watch and many other activities. The SWCD believes this form of experiential learning helps bring water quality issues in the watershed to a new generation. The SWCD has also participated in many other outreach activities to the community, including events in the high school and grade school classrooms, setting up a booth on water quality at the 4H Fair, and participating in water quality activities at the Barnyard Carnival for fourth graders and at the Mini-Barnyard Carnival for preschoolers.

In 2011, the SWCD also partnered with our local Cattlemen's Association and Purdue Extension to host a Conservation Farm Tour. Over 150 people from two counties attended the tour and were able to see how good conservation practices can not only increase the bottom line of profitability, but can help protect our natural resources for future generations. The tour promoted cost share programs available through the office to encourage adoption of environmentally friendly farming practices.

The SWCD has received many different grants over the years, including an ongoing LARE (Lake And River Enhancement) grant through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. This grant provided over $11,000 of cost share to Orange County land users in 2011. The SWCD also partners with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to bring federal cost share funds into Orange County. Additionally, the SWCD received a $7,000 Clean Water Indiana grant to provide cost share for grid sampling. Orange County SWCD also administers the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) for the Lower East Fork White River Watershed.

Orange County SWCD is always looking for ways to fund conservation practices on the ground and to educate Orange County residents on the importance of conserving, improving and sustaining our natural resources.