As the U.S. Congress deals with the budget and spending deficit in Washington, cuts begin to hit home in Sweetwater. Such may be the case for the Big Country RC&D Area, headquartered here in Sweetwater and serving 12 counties in the area according to Secretary/Treasurer for the organization, Tom Henderson of Nolan County. This local not-for-profit organization began operations here in 1991, after being recognized and authorized by the Secretary of Agriculture as a viable, organized rural, community development organization.
With this authorization came a standing agreement from the federal government’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Agency to provide annual financial assistance to the organization for basic operating costs. This annual financial assistance covers the cost of providing a coordinator, office space, utilities, vehicle, an administrative assistant and other needed equipment and supplies.
“As congress looks for spending cuts, the RC&D program appears to be an easy target,” said Henderson. Making up less than 1% of the USDA budget, the program is one of the smallest administered by the NRCS. Sometimes smaller mean’s easier to cut due to smaller numbers of people being affected by the cut. But in the case of Big Country RC&D, this may not be the case. "This organization has so many contributions to the area; it is hard to determine how many people have been affected by its projects," said Henderson.
Numerous non-profits and school districts in the area have received computers, printers, school supplies, playground equipment, nature gardens and other items from the non-profit. Emergency response groups in the area have received fire trucks, ambulances, CPR mannequins, jaws-of-life and air packs through the organization.
The Oak Creek Lake Watershed in Southern Nolan County, received over a $1 million dollars in brush control and other conservation practices as the result of a EPA-319 grant the organization secured and administered. The group was fundamental in the formation of numerous leadership development classes in the area.
The group has conducted rural water well screening events in the area, screening 1180 wells for nitrates, salts and bacteria. The not-for-profit has secured over $50,000 from the state to replace failing septic systems and plug contaminated water wells in the area. Big Country RC&D secured a grant for startup cost of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium, another local non-profit. This grant funded items such as job fairs, equipment, newsletter publications and other items to help promote wind energy development in the area.
In the last six years the Big Country RC&D has secured over $50,000 to conduct range education workshops for over 400 attendees in six counties in the area. Recently Big Country RC&D assisted with securing a new fire truck for Lake Sweetwater and Lake Allen Henry branch of the Post Volunteer Fire Departments and secured a not for profit status for the Texas Theater, so that organization could seek grant funds and donations for renovation of the theater.
Currently Big Country RC&D has received a $8,700 grant to install six rainfall harvesting demonstrations in the area to conserve treated water, received $15,000 to repair septic systems in Nolan and Mitchell Counties, and is working with GE Windenergy to renovate a local park in Sweetwater.
"Big Country RC&D is a valuable resource for our area. The RC&D program as a whole brags a seven dollar return this last year for each federal dollar received," said Henderson. Some years the program has secured up to $18 for each federal dollar received.
Henderson, a resident of Nolan County commented, “As congress evaluates programs and looks for the best places to cut the federal budget, we hope consideration is given to what all has been accomplished for the money received here.” The accomplishments listed above are just a few of the many achieved by this local not-for-profit. Henderson concluded by saying, “Can you think of another federal program that has accomplished so much and secured so many outside dollars for the small amount of federal funds received?”