Soil and Water Conservation districts celebrate 75th anniversary

Submitted by Leigh CallowayYadkin Soil and Water Conservation District

August 22, 2012

Governor Beverly Perdue has proclaimed the month of August as “Soil and Water Conservation Awareness Month” in North Carolina.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts and their governing Boards of Supervisors were formed nationwide out of concern for the nation’s soil and water resources. This concern grew out of the devastating Dust Bowl in the west, severe water erosion in the south, and other conservation problems of the 1930’s and even earlier. Legislation adopted by individual states, beginning in 1937, formed local Soil and Water Conservation Districts of which there are now 96 in North Carolina.

Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett, a North Carolina native from Anson County, helped coordinate national efforts toward solving the critical conservation problems that the country faced. Dr. Bennett, known internationally as the “Father of Soil and Water Conservation,” helped lay the foundation for the soil and water conservation programs of today.

The purpose of these districts was to provide local input and direction to the fledging federal conservation programs that were administered by the USDA-Soil Conservation Service which were established two years earlier in 1935. On February 27, 1937, President Roosevelt corresponded with state governors across the United States, urging each state to adopt legislation similar to the “model law.”

That same year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a soil and water conservation districts law known as N.C. General Statute 139, and the Brown Creek Soil and Water Conservation District, in the home county of Dr. Bennett, was chartered on August 4, 1937. This District was the first Soil and Water Conservation District organized in the United States although 21 other states enacted similar legislation later in 1937.

Nearly four-fifths of the states enacted similar laws in the next three years. By 1947, all of the other states and the territories of Hawaii and Alaska had passed legislation which created local Districts.

Under this law, Soil and Water Conservation Districts were organized to plan and carry out a locally led, voluntary incentive based conservation program that addressed local needs. District affairs are managed by individuals and groups involved in a coordinated conservation program, utilizing resources from local, state, and federal agencies. It was felt that local people, working with the Federal Government and federal agencies such as the Soil Conservation Service, could better guide and direct programs aimed at addressing local natural resource concerns.

At first, Districts were organized along watershed rather than county boundaries. As a result, in the early days most districts included more than one county or parts of several counties. Many of the original state laws that were established on a watershed basis were later changed to allow conservation districts to be established along county lines. Today, most districts are organized in that way. One exception in North Carolina is the Albemarle Soil and Water Conservation District which includes Camden, Currituck, Chowan, Perquimans, and Pasquotank counties.

Originally formed as the Tri-Creek Soil and Water Conservation District, the Yadkin Soil and Water District operates from the USDA Service Center at 209 East Elm Street; Yadkinville, NC. The Yadkin District assists landowners with the evaluation and implementation of best management practices on privately owned land to minimize erosion and protect water quality. For questions or concerns regarding assistance with any of the programs outlined above, please contact the Yadkin Soil and Water Conservation District office at 336-679-8052.