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Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts

Soil and Water Conservation Districts
and State Zones

Map of Texas SWCDs

(To find a specific SWCD, visit the SWCD locator map.)

Locally Governed

A soil and water conservation district, like a county or school district, is a subdivision of state government. The program and plan of work of the district is developed according to the local needs of the district.

Landowner Operated

A soil and water conservation district is brought into existence by a vote of the landowners within the boundaries of a district. It is administered by a board of five directors who are elected by their fellow landowners.

The Creation Of A District

After the passage of the Texas Soil Conservation Law and with the establishment of the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB), soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) began to be formed.

To bring a district into existence, a minimum of 50 local agricultural landowners had to petition the TSSWCB requesting the creation of a district. Following the filing of the petition, the TSSWCB held a hearing on the question of desirability and necessity for a district. If facts presented at the hearing determined a favorable need, the TSSWCB conducted an election within the proposed district on the proposition of creating a conservation district. At least two-thirds of the votes cast by local agricultural landowners must have been positive in order to create a new district.

District Wide Representation Is Assured

To assure geographical representation on the district's governing board, SWCDs are divided into five subdivisions. A district's governing body, a board of directors, is made up of agricultural landowners, one from each of five subdivisions.

Each district director must live in the district, own land in the subdivision he or she represents, and be actively engaged in farming or ranching.

Agricultural Landowners Qualify

Elections are held once a year in an SWCD. Directors are elected for a four-year term. On a day after September 30 and before October 16, each year, agricultural landowners in each of the districts over the state assemble in conventions and elect their representative on the district's board of directors. By rotating the elections in subdivisions, one or two directors' terms expire each year. Only agricultural landowners may vote or qualify as directors.

Directors Hold Regular Meetings

SWCD directors receive no salary. They do, however, receive per diem for attending meetings, plus car mileage. This expense payment is allowed for no more than 20 meetings a year. Ordinarily, directors meet once a month, but perform numerous other duties outside of regular meetings for which they receive no pay.

SWCD directors must have a knowledge of the conservation problems in their district and have the ability to organize people and resources for effective action in controlling soil erosion, thereby making the land more productive. They should be willing to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the district and their community.

Directors have accepted their positions because they believe in the local, voluntary SWCD approach, which has proven successful for more than half a century.

The Program And Plan Of Work

The elected board of directors has the responsibility to develop a program and plan of work.

This program is actually an inventory of the land and water resources and problems of the district. It describes the actual conditions bearing on land and its use.

The plan of work discusses land capabilities, physical conditions, and socio-economic conditions creating conservation problems. Conservation needs and treatment, as well as district policy, are outlined in the document. The program and plan of work also details solutions to problems and resources available to accomplish district objectives.

Plans Are Based On Local Needs

Before the creation of SWCDs, agricultural operators had been reluctant to adopt conservation plans. The Texas Legislature attempted to solve this problem when the state Soil Conservation Law was passed in 1939.

Through a chartered, legally established SWCD, local farmers and ranchers were given the opportunity, for the first time, to decide for themselves how they were going to solve local soil and water conservation problems. They were also given the legal authority to carry out their decisions.

Help Sought and Help Given

Help or assistance comes to an SWCD from various federal, state and local agencies. A primary source of help a district offers agricultural landowners or operators is the technical assistance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Through Memoranda of Understanding with USDA and NRCS, local SWCDs are able to furnish technical assistance to farmers and ranchers in the preparation of a complete soil and water conservation plan to meet each land unit's specific capabilities and needs.

The TSSWCB, the state agency charged with the overall responsibility of coordinating the SWCD programs in Texas, also makes technical assistance funds available to districts through a grant program. Personnel hired under this program are district employees who work cooperatively with NRCS employees to help agricultural landowners/operators plan and install conservation practices.

With water quality being a major issue of concern in Texas, the 73rd Legislature passed Senate Bill 503. This bill created the Water Quality Management Plan Program to provide agricultural and silvicultural (forestry) producers with an opportunity to comply with state water quality laws through traditional, voluntary, incentive-based programs.

Landowners and operators may request the development of a site-specific water quality management plan through local SWCDs. Plans include appropriate land treatment practices, production practices and management and technology measures to achieve a level of pollution prevention or abatement consistent with state water quality standards.

Districts also work with the USDA-Farm Service Agency, Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Texas Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service and others when necessary to assist agricultural landowners/operators meet individual land use needs.

There Is Work For Everyone

An SWCD may enlist help from any source available other than what has already been mentioned. For example, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, schools, churches, civic clubs, garden clubs, business firms and other organizations can render valuable assistance to the conservation district in their community.

By contacting the local district, these groups can find out what services they can provide that will assist the conservation efforts within the SWCD.

An Annual Plan Of Operation

Goals of the district are not all accomplished in one year. In addition to preparing its long-range program and plan of work, an SWCD usually makes a plan of action called an annual plan of operation. The plan establishes reasonable goals and objectives which the district intends to accomplish during the year.

In preparing this annual land of operation, the directors call in agricultural agencies, groups of farmers, businessmen, school officials and anyone else in the district interested in soil and water conservation. The district's goal for the coming year is explained and each person is asked what they will do to help reach this goal. The agreements reached at this meeting are arranged according to the time and place the jobs are to be completed and who agrees to do them.

A Complete, Coordinated Conservation Plan

By contacting the directors of the soil and water conservation district, a farmer or rancher can get assistance on all phases of conservation.

A wheat farmer on the High Plains can get help in solving a specific wind erosion problem. A rancher can get information on how to manage grasses on his rangeland. A woodland owner can get help to develop a management and conservation plan on timberland, and a vegetable grower in the Rio Grande Valley finds no problem in getting up-to-date information on irrigation. At the same time, a cotton farmer in Central Texas can solve specific erosion problems with current information supplied through an SWCD.

This is the basic concept of an SWCD. Districts are designed to deliver a local program, based on local needs, that best conserves and promotes the wise and judicious use of our renewable natural resources.

Individual Initiative Is The Key

Soil and water conservation districts do not aim toward power. They work to bring about the widespread understanding of the needs of soil and water conservation. In addition, they work to activate the efforts of public and private organizations and agencies into a united front to combat soil and water erosion and to enhance water quality and quantity in the state.

It is the purpose of SWCDs to instill in the minds of local people that it is their individual responsibility to do the job of soil and water conservation. SWCDs receive assistance from many sources. But with all this help, farmers, ranchers, communities and other individuals must exercise a voluntary initiative in applying a conservation program compatible with their own objectives.