An important Ohio milestone occurred on April 18, 2017 — the diamond anniversary of the first soil and water conservation district (SWCD) in Ohio.
Highland SWCD was the first and was quickly followed by Champaign, Clark, Butler, Coshocton, Morrow, Noble, Guernsey, Monroe, and Tuscarawas for a grand total of 10 in 1941. By the end of the 1940s, 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties had soil conservation districts with the formation of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District in 1944.
Today there are more than 3,000 conservation districts across the United States. Why were soil and water districts created? A brief trip back in time explains it.
The idea of conservation districts came out of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The Great Plains had been converted from prairie grasses to wheat due to record wheat prices and new gasoline tractors but then drought hit, along with the Great Depression, and the wheat market collapsed.
The drought dragged on and combined with the dearth of prairie grasses caused our nation’s valuable topsoil to be brutalized by strong winds, leading to “black blizzards,” swirling dense dust clouds.
One such cloud was two miles high and traveled 2,000 miles to envelop the Statue of Liberty and U.S. Capitol in May 1934. In 1935, Congress declared soil erosion a national menace and established the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the goal of retaining topsoil and preventing damage to the land.
The powers that be recognized that the relationship between land users and federal employees would be significantly enhanced by state and local support. In 1941, Ohio’s Governor Bricker signed the Ohio Soil Conservation District Enabling Act, establishing the procedures for the formation of local soil conservation districts and the election of local district boards of supervisors.
Wind erosion was not the primary issue in Ohio that it was in the Great Plains, rather erosion of precious topsoil by water was more prevalent, creating gullies large enough to hide a tractor.
While there have been changes throughout the years, the strong relationship of the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and county soil and water conservation districts, remains vital today and has been enhanced through partnerships with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio State University Extension, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and a host of other dedicated conservation professionals.
With technical assistance and financial incentives, agricultural producers are able to increase production while utilizing a menu of practices that help prevent erosion and improve water quality. Common agricultural practices in Delaware County include grass waterways, no-till, cover crops, pasture management, tree plantings, and high tunnels, just to name a few.
Soil and water conservation districts in Ohio political subdivisions of the state of Ohio and are locally led by a board of five community members who serve without pay for three year terms. These volunteers guide the direction of the district because they are attuned to the needs of their respective counties.
Since Ohio is so diverse, every soil and water conservation district has a slightly different focus. Delaware County is a unique and complex mix of agricultural, rural, suburban, and urban uses and we offer programs to address those diverse needs. Backyard conservation, the Ohio Envirothon competition for high schoolers, and storm water management are current programs that no one would have imagined in the 1940s but assist with the stewardship of our natural resources and enrich the quality of life in our vibrant county. Delaware SWCD has had 73 years of outstanding service from its board members and thanks to their dedication our programs are always evolving.
Current board members Sue Cunningham, Dan Lane, John Miller, Steve Sheets, and Ted Colflesh, are the latest in the long tradition of excellence.
Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District is here “Helping You Help the Land!” Visit us at www.delawareswcd.org to see the array of conservation programs and practices or call us at 740-368-1921 with your natural resource questions.