Soil and Water Conservation in Iowa
Regional Districts are Formed
Soil Conservation Districts enabled farmers to band together on their own initiative to control soil and water conservation problems in community-wide action suited to local conditions. Soil and water conservation problems were carefully studied in many regions of the state and counties. These studies show that if these problems are uncontrolled they generally result in low farm family income, decline in business, and curtailment of community activities. It has become clear that soil conservation problems can be best solved by farmers working together in organized groups and when Iowans recognize that conservation problems extend beyond the boundaries of individual farms. This was the logic behind the act enabling farmers to establish conservation districts in Iowa.
Iowa Law Authorizes Districts
The Federal Soil Conservation Act in 1935 suggested that soil conservation districts be formed as local subdivisions of the state governments. The main purpose of these districts, as suggested in the federal law, was to help farmers make general use of soil and water conservation practices that would prevent erosion and maintain or increase crop production.
The 48th General Assembly of Iowa in 1939 passed the law under which local soil conservation districts are organized. These districts are legal segments of the state government. Their purpose is to take care of soil and water conservation problems in Iowa; and the State Soil Conservation Committee administers the law under which they operate. In Iowa, the law was based on a suggested law drawn up by the United States Department of Agriculture and submitted to all states. This law was reviewed and revised to meet Iowa conditions before it was adopted.
Procedure Used to Organize a District
The organization of each district was initiated by the farmers in the area. They petitioned the State Soil Conservation Committee to hold a hearing in their area. At least 20 percent of the landowners within the area were required to sign the petition. After receiving petitions from the landowners, the State Soil Conservation Committee conducted a hearing where pros and cons of the needs for the district organization were discussed. If the committee determined that it was practical and feasible to form a soil conservation district, the Committee arranged for a referendum and election. It was necessary that 65 percent of the landowners voting be in favor before a district could be organized.
Entire State Organized
In April, 1940, the first Iowa Soil Conservation District was organized. The last Iowa Soil Conservation District was organized in February, 1952. This completed a blanket of 100 soil conservation districts over the state from border to border, exclusive towns and cities. In 12 years the organization job had been completed. Each district was organized on a county boundary basis, with the exception of Pottawattamie County, which was divided into two districts because of other subdivisions of government being set up on the East and West Pottawattamie County basis.
The yearly rate at which districts were organized:
1940 –8 1941 – 9 1942 – 13 1943 – 4 1944 – 12 1945 – 15 1946 – 21 1947 – 7 1948 – 3 1949 – 4 1950 – 3 1952 – 1
Election of District Commissioners
There are three soil conservation district commissioners in a district. The district commissioners are elected at the time of the referendum and election. They form the governing body of the district and serve for terms of two, four, and six years determined by the number of votes each receives. All elections, following the first election, are for a term of six years. A new commissioner is elected at the end of each two-year period, with the exception of a vacancy created by death or resignation.
Before the election date, petitions are circulated for nomination of individuals for the office of commissioner. Twenty-five signatures of landowners and operators in the district must appear on this nominating petition for each candidate. The commissioners must reside within the boundaries of the district, or within cities and towns lying within the boundaries of the district.
The District Commissioners Job
The duties, authorities, and responsibilities of the district commissioners are broad and extensive within conservation and diffucult to summarize completely. However, the main objectives are to conduct surveys, investigations, demonstrations, and help to determine research needs relating to soil and water problems; to cooperate with other agencies, governmental or otherwise, and with owners or occupiers of the land; to promote the development of comprehensive programs of planning, application, and maintenance of necessary erosion control and conservation measures; to enter into agreements with individuals, landowners, and operators; to promote and establish sound soil and water conservation practices. The activities are intended to benefit the people of the district, and also the public in general. They are primarily responsible for conducting the affairs of the district.