Soil and Water Conservation Districts
In 1933, severe erosion problems from the Dust Bowl era caused the federal government to establish the Soil Erosion Service within the U.S. Department of the Interior. Less than two years later, the service was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and became the Soil Conservation Service. (The name of the Soil Conservation Service was changed in 1996 to Natural Resources Conservation Service.) After large-scale projects proved too slow and cumbersome, individual state legislatures passed laws to form soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs). Missouri joined this movement to localize soil and water administration in 1944, and Harrison County formed Missouri's first SWCD. In 1996, Washington County SWCD became the last of Missouri's 114 counties to organize into SWCDs.
Soil and water conservation districts are locally operated sub-units of state government organized according to state law. Districts are governed by a board of supervisors with five members. Four are elected from landowners in the county, who serve four-year terms, and the fifth is a representative from University Extension. Board members are public officials responsible for all district actions, decisions and employees, but districts have no regulatory or taxing authority. Board members are not paid.
In most cases, regular board meetings are held monthly and are open to the public. Most districts also have an annual meeting in which the past year's accomplishments are reviewed, awards are given and agricultural landowners from the county are invited to learn more about the various programs offered by the districts.
District programs utilize technical, financial and information services available from local, state and federal agencies. Most soil and water districts receive and administer locally generated funds as well as funds from the state government. They provide informational and educational activities including grazing schools and field tours. The Department of Natural Resources Soil and Water Conservation Program administers the state cost-share program and the Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution Special Area Land Treatment Program.
Soil and water conservation districts are local people solving local problems. Programs and services vary with each district. Contact your district for more information or to get involved with soil and water conservation in your area.