Thursday, September 29, 2022

What the Soil and Water Conservation District is, and why it’s on your ballot

Voters will have the option to vote on two local Soil & Water Conservation District supervisor candidates on their November ballots.

Voters will have the opportunity to vote on Soil & Water Conservation District supervisors during this year's election. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Soil & Water Conservation District)
Voters will have the opportunity to vote on Soil & Water Conservation District supervisors during this year’s election. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Soil & Water Conservation District)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Alongside household names and seats, residents will also have the opportunity to vote for a less familiar role this election: Soil & Water Conservation District supervisors.

Created in the 1930s by the state to deal with Dust Bowl-era erosion issues, every county in the state has its own non-partisan Soil & Water Conservation District.

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Each district is led by five supervisors. Two seats are appointed by the local board of supervisors and three are elected.

“These districts were set up to create a mechanism for the federal government to work with private landowners,” David Williams, the state’s Soil & Water Conservation District division deputy director, said.

These days, districts focus largely on educating and partnering with private landowners, oftentimes farmers, to promote erosion-control techniques. “They develop strategies and administer programs aimed at protecting natural resources,” Williams said. 

Operating in a non-regulatory capacity, districts work with local officials, businesses non-profits and private landowners to establish soil and water conservation efforts.

The districts receive local, state and federal funding. But lately, funding has been low, Williams said. “Because our funds are so limited we’ve been going to a more regional competition for those funds,” he said.

In Pender and Brunswick Counties, local districts work with farmers to install soil and water conservation practices. Some practices include protecting against gully erosion and promoting no-till farming.

Williams said in New Hanover County, where a limited amount of farmland is left, the focus has been focusing on suburban, urban, and rural programs.

They’re visionaries there,” Williams said of New Hanover County’s district. “The district board has been very progressive.”

New Hanover County helped establish a Conservation Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP), which served as a template that the state later picked up on, Williams said. These incentive programs encourage best management practices, like establishing living shorelines.

Check out who’s running for this non-partisan board in the tri-county area below:

Author’s note: Port City Daily has reached out to candidates with available contact information for supervisor roles in local Soil & Water Conservation District races. Port City Daily wishes to included answers for all candidates when and if they become available.

Brunswick Soil & Water Conservation District

  • Elliot Swain
  • Jody E. Clemmons

New Hanover Soil & Water Conservation District

  • Frank Christopher Meares
    • Why are you running? For me right now, I had run for the Board of Education last time, and of course, I didn’t get that. I understand they have a lot of other people that were running that were really good, but that doesn’t mean that my soil and water would go away. So even when I was doing that I was looking to stay with soil and water. When everything came through and it came time to run again I already knew I would run. Right now I am on the board not just as a soil and water representative but I am also the area six delegate for our education committee. So right now I’m already there with how to best protect our soil and water throughout our entire state. Soil and water is just something people don’t pay a whole lot of attention to. That’s why I’m continuing to run. I want to be that member to continue to put forth BMPS [best management practices]. I’ve continued to vote to have more of these BMP projects done. If I’m re-elected I can continue what I’m doing. The other reason I’m running for re-election because at our area meetings we have the ability to push for legislative agendas. The legislative agenda I pushed for recently was to look at putting forth a bill that would look at issues like GenX. To tell anybody if you’re dumping a chemical into our water and there’s no information on it, you’re responsible for anything that’s happening with it. We ended up having a heated debate in our annual meeting in Raleigh that ended with those that weren’t at that time being critically affected, fighting back against us because they’re afraid of other interests with chemical interests in our area. I want these protections to be put in place.No matter what we need more people who want to be involved with soil and water and understand we’re not just a program on the bottom of their ballot. We do a lot of heavy lifting behind the scenes to try to help people understand not just what the fecal matter from your dog can cause to a water system but also what a chemical can cause to our water system.
    • What do you hope to accomplish, if elected? My biggest goal is I really want to get as many people to not just vote for me but to vote for soil and water in general. My goal is to get citizens involved more. Have them standing with us. This month, my goal is to make sure people are aware and know that it’s on the ballot. We need them not just to vote but when it comes time to have this position open to come forth and serve. It really helps, especially young people like myself — which I think I can still consider myself young — it gives them a lot of experience with how to deal with the government in general. You have to work with each other. That’s just my overall goal. My overall goal is to try to get the different bills to protect us from chemicals that hurt us so we can protect yourself so we don’t have a bunch of red tape that doesn’t help us that companies know how to get around. We need to be smarter and we need to talk with our legislators. As soil and water representatives were supposed to be the ones with that knowledge and that fire to talk with them. Hopefully, as a re-elected member, it would give me that extra ‘umph’ to say the voter is behind me. In truth, I want people to be excited.
  • Evan Folds (write-in candidate)
    • Why are you running? Because I believe there’s nothing more important than healthy living soil and clean water. Based on my background and experience, I don’t know of a more direct way of going about working with those materials than to run for this position.
    • What do you hope to accomplish, if elected? I hope to raise the awareness of the public of the options that are available to deal with the problem we’re experiencing locally. I think that’s really the highlight to grow the ability of our capacity to conserve in a profitable way for everyone.

Pender Soil & Water Conservation District

  • Bill Murrell
    • Why are you running? To help promote better practices in farming and agriculture. Cost-share programs.
    • What do you hope to accomplish, if elected? Well, I reckon the same thing I’ve been doing for the last term, which is impartially awarding grant money to deserving individuals that show interesting in doing things a little bit better than what they’ve been doing for years.
  • Douglas Rivenbark
  • Al Slawuta
  • George Wesley Everett

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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