Gov. Beverly Perdue has designated August as Soil & Water Conservation Awareness Month, in a proclamation she signed earlier this month.
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 1930s 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.
Hugh Hammond Bennett, a North Carolina native from Anson County, was instrumental in coordinating national efforts toward solving the critical conservation problems that the country faced. Bennett, known internationally as the “Father of Soil and Water Conservation,” can be credited with laying the foundation for the soil and water conservation programs of today.
Through the efforts of Bennett and his close working relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a model law known as the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law was drafted which would enable states to create local soil and water conservation districts. The purpose of these districts was to provide local input and direction to the fledgling federal conservation programs that were administered by the USDA-Soil Conservation Service which were established two years earlier in 1935.
On Feb. 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 Bennett, was chartered on Aug. 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.