Annual plans and budgets
Sources of Revenue
    County Allocation
    County Levy
    Statutory Allocations and Delegated Authorities
    Equipment Rental and Fee for Service
    Shared Services and Partnerships
    Contractual Agreements
    Grants & Loans


In order to provide conservation services, SWCDs need to plan for and finance their operations. This chapter discusses the value of developing annual plans and budgets, as well as potential sources of revenue for their operation.

Annual plans and budgets

An annual plan and budget are the basis of good management in any operation. For SWCDs, they identify actions and funding needs for addressing the issues and goals identified in resource plans (discussed in Chapter 5). The annual plan details the activities and the associated budget needs in a given year.

The process for annual planning and budgeting is just as important as the documents that are produced. As SWCDs transition to comprehensive watershed management plans, it is critical to coordinate and collaborate with watershed partners to implement plans on an annual basis.

The contents of your annual plan could include the following items:

  • High priority erosion, sedimentation, and water quality problems in the district
  • Activities    
  • Estimated staff time             
  • Estimated project dollars    
  • Expected Outcome

Once you have determined what you plan to accomplish in the next year, you can start to develop a budget and identify sources of revenue for budgeted items. The annual budgeting process is discussed in the next chapter, Financial Management [hyperlink].

Sources of Revenue

State law grants SWCDs with a variety of powers, however they lack levy authority that allows a local property tax assessment to fund district operations. Therefore, SWCDs rely on a variety of external funding sources to ensure their continuing operations. For those SWCDs that want to increase operations to meet local concerns or to address local resource needs, district boards and staff must pursue additional funding through watershed-based implementation funding, competitive grants, contracted services or inter-governmental transfers. 

County Allocation

Many SWCDs receive an annual funding allocation from their respective county boards, which comes from tax revenue. There is not a standard or formulated amount that a county board must allocate to support the SWCD general budget. The SWCD must present a proposed budget, including any requested funds to its county board annually.

County Levy

County boards can administer a levy on behalf of the SWCD. The county boards may levy an annual tax on all taxable real property in the district for the amount that the boards determine is necessary to meet the requirements of the district (MINN. STAT. 103C331 Subd. 16).

Levy authority for counties also resides in local water planning and management statute (MINN. STAT. 103B.335, Subd. 1). The governing body of any county, municipality, or township may levy a tax in an amount required to develop and implement comprehensive local water management plans (MINN. STAT. 103B.301 to 103B.355) or a comprehensive watershed management plans (MINN. STAT. 103B.3363).

A county may levy amounts necessary to pay the reasonable costs to SWCDs and watershed districts of administering and implementing priority programs identified in an approved and adopted plan or a comprehensive watershed management plan (MINN. STAT. 103B.3363).

Statutory Allocations and Delegated Authorities

While there are only a few statutorily obligated duties that require a fund transfer between the county and an SWCD, many SWCDs have accepted delegated authority from the county for specific programs.  Two commonly delegated programs are Comprehensive Local Water Management Planning and the administration of the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA). 

Within the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) Rule (MINN. RULE 8420.0240), SWCDs are specifically required to serve on the technical evaluation panel, to provide restoration orders, and to certify final compliance with the requirements within a restoration order. The state provides an annual Natural Resources Block Grant (NRBG) to counties to assist in covering the cost of running these programs. The state requires the county to provide a minimum fund transfer to the SWCD from the NRBG to provide WCA services.

In addition to the powers and duties that come with accepting the delegation of authority for a program, counties will frequently transfer a significant portion or all the funding that is associated with these delegated programs.  In addition, the required match or levy for the programs is usually transferred to the SWCD as well. 

Equipment Rental and Fee for Service

Under SWCD statute, supervisors may charge for materials, services or otherwise when working with private landowners to install conservation practices (MINN. STAT. 103C.331 Subd 14).  Table 1 lists common materials, rentals or service programs that SWCDs have developed to further their mission and generate revenue for their district.

Table 1: Example SWCD Services1

Service or Program

Sales or Services Provided

Tree Program

Sale of seedling and potted trees for a variety of conservation plantings in the County. Also includes sales of planting supplies such as weed fabric, tree protection tubes, etc.

Seed Sales

Sale of native plant seed, cover crop seeds, or other conservation cover seed.

Planting Services

Staff time charged to perform the work of planting trees or doing other native, buffer or conservation plantings.

RIM Easement Maintenance

Staff time charged to perform maintenance on RIM conservation easement contracts with private landowners. May entail mowing, reseeding, interseeding, tree removal or other maintenance needs.

Noxious Weed Management

Staff time charged to treat noxious weeds on private lands by a certified pesticide applicator.

Rain Barrels / Residential Stormwater Equipment

Sale of goods such as rain barrels, rain garden components and kits.

Consultant Services

Fees charged for consulting and design of residential water quality project planning, GIS mapping services, development plan review, water appropriation plan development, or other services.

Agricultural Equipment Rentals

Rental fee for use of agricultural conservation equipment such as no till drills, native grass drills, drop seeders, herbicide application equipment, mulchers, roto-tillers, mowers, and other equipment.

Fees for WCA Services

Under MINN. RULE 8420.0200, Subpart 2, (h) the County and SWCD may charge processing fees in amounts not greater than are necessary to cover the reasonable costs of implementing WCA and for technical and administrative assistance to landowners in processing other applications for projects affecting wetlands. This assistance may include staff time for application review, processing, board hearings, wetland banking and other WCA related services.

 1This is not a comprehensive list of SWCD programs or services, but is meant to serve as a guide to typical programs that many SWCDs offer.

Shared Services and Partnerships

Under statute, SWCDs can share services and work across jurisdictional boundaries. Typical shared services include technical assistance and engineering, commonly through the Technical Service Area (TSA), shared administrative services, educational positions or shared expertise such as a GIS technical position. As a source of revenue, the/a district may charge partnerships for these services through an approved agreement.

Contractual Agreements

SWCDs may enter into contractual agreements that provide a service for reimbursement. For instance, the MN Pollution Control Agency uses professional service agreement contracts when LGUs work on providing information and context for Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) reports.

Grants & Loans

SWCDs can apply for a wide variety of grant and loan funding offered through local, state and federal sources. Many of these funding opportunities are cyclical or legislatively appropriated and do not represent a stable source of long-term funding. However, the majority of SWCDs continue to rely on these revenue sources for most of their funding.


A grant is a tool for funding ideas and projects to provide public services, stimulate the economy, and benefit the general public. Grants can be awarded for a wide-variety of activities including research, data collection, infrastructure improvements or any other activities to benefit the public. The process of successfully serving the public through grants, though, can be quite complex.

Government agencies and private entities provide grant funding opportunities. Government grant programs originate from laws, and then are administered by the appropriate local, state or federal agency.

Local Grants

Recently, state legislation has allowed local governments to provide grant opportunities that SWCDs can take advantage of. The most recent examples include funding for local aquatic invasive species control and buffer implementation funding. A county or local entity may use their tax dollars to provide additional funding for specific activities.

State Grants

Several state agencies offer grants that fit well within the purpose and duties of SWCDs. Usually, these grant funds are competitive in nature and occur cyclically. The majority of the funding sources are administered by the state agency through a legislative appropriation and can change depending on annual legislation. Competitive grant funding pools are usually insufficient to meet all requests and grant agreements are of limited duration.   SWCDs find establishing long-lasting programs difficult with competitive grants.  SWCDs will need to work with their county government for additional inter-governmental assistance and seek grant funding from a wider range of partners like non-government organizations or enter into contractual agreements with organizations that have a comparable conservation mission.

Board of Water and Soil Resource Grants

BWSR grants provide funding to local units of government to deliver soil and water conservation services to their communities. Grant funds support and increase local capacity to implement programs and, provide cost-share with landowners who install conservation practices on their land to benefit state water and soil resources.

Watershed-based implementation grants are an alternative to the traditional project-by-project competitive process often used to fund water quality improvement projects. This funding allows collaborating local governments to pursue timely solutions based on a watershed's highest priority needs. The approach depends on comprehensive watershed management plans developed under One Watershed, One Plan program or the Metropolitan Surface or Ground Water Management framework to provide assurance that actions are prioritized, targeted and measurable.

Federal Grants

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCS) is an established partner with SWCDs. NRCS may provide financial and technical assistance to SWCDs to assist with conservation work. This is usually done through a written agreement.

Other federal agencies may offer grants to SWCDs. These agencies could include the Environmental Protection Agency, US Forest Service, etc.

2019 Memo to SWCDs regarding obtaining loan or incurring debt.