The list of agencies and groups imperiled by the ongoing Illinois budget stalemate has gotten longer.

The state’s 97 soil and water conservation districts have gone without state funding since March - nearly a year now - because of the lack of a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

And now, those districts are running out of money. Whiteside’s district office might have to close in September or October, if funding isn’t restored.

Districts that cover Lee, Ogle, Carroll and Bureau counties are likewise negatively affected by the lack of state funds.

Soil and water conservation districts are an amazing success story. Born in desperate days of the 1930s Dust Bowl era, the districts have greatly reduced the waste of natural resources vital to our way of life.

District offices coordinate programs with landowners to conserve soil and water on farms, protect groundwater resources, conserve and restore wetlands, and plant trees and vegetation to hold soil in place.

Conservation districts also conduct fish sales, do wildlife habitat planning, and educate schoolchildren about the importance of natural resources and the need to conserve them.

Out of concern over the Whiteside district’s plight, its board and staff came up with a program that asks area friends and neighbors to become financial sponsors of the district.

Without an infusion of money to replace lapsed state funding, employees will have to be let go and services curtailed sometime in the fall.

And a program vital to the continued responsible stewardship of soil and water by landowners across Whiteside County may wither away.

Local districts should not have to beg for money, when it is so clearly in the public’s interest to promote conservation.

Illinois’ leaders need to come to terms on a budget soon so that important, far-reaching programs such as soil and water conservation districts can be properly funded to continue their important work.

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