Soil and Water Conservation
Districts in the 21st Century - fact sheet
Minnesotans count on SWCD technical assistance with conservation practices
that protect the quality of Minnesota's greatest treasure - our natural
SWCDs are local units of government that
manage and direct natural resource management programs at the local level.
Districts work in both urban and rural settings, with landowners and with other
units of government, to carry out a
program for the conservation, use, and development of soil, water, and related
One crucial niche districts fill is that
of providing soil and water conservation services to owners of private lands.
Privately owned lands make up 78 percent of the land surface in
Minnesota. Managing these private lands, whether agriculture, forest, lakes, or
urban, is key to Minnesota's quality of life.
Minnesotans trust SWCDs to provide
needed technology, funding and educational services because they are established
in each community, governed by local leaders and focused on conservation of
local soil and water resources.
The first SWCD in
Minnesota - the Burns-Homer-Pleasant district, later renamed the Winona SWCD -
was created in 1938 in response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Also known as
the “dirty thirties,” intensive farming during a time of drought allowed high
winds to erode the landscape and carry clouds of dust from the
all the way to
D.C. Districts were subsequently developed across the country to encourage
landowners to alter their farming techniques in order to more wisely use our
soil and water resources. Over the years, soil and water conservation districts
expanded their focuses beyond agriculture to also provide assistance in
forested, lakes and urban areas of their communities. Districts have also
expanded their base of clientele to include not only private landowners, but
also other units of government such as counties, cities, townships and watershed
Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs)
are political subdivisions of the State. Supervisors serve four year staggered terms;
generally, two or
three of an SWCD's five supervisors are up for election every two years.
These positions have been local elected officials since SWCDs began to be formed
in 1937. Since 1971 the offices have appeared on the November ballot as a
The elections have always been at-large
within the district. In 1974 “supervisor nomination districts” were
mandated for the purpose of ensuring some measure of geographic distribution of
elected supervisors across each SWCD. The rationale for this is that the
SWCD programs deal with land and water issues of geographic scope; thus, it
was seen as good government to ensure geographic distribution of elected
officials across the SWCD.
There are 90 SWCDs in
Minnesota, providing 100% coverage of the state. There is at least one SWCD in
each of the 87 counties, while a few of the larger counties have more than one:
Tail County - East Otter Tail SWCD and Wester Otter Tail SWCD;
County - East Polk SWCD and West Polk SWCD; and
- North St. Louis SWCD and South
St. Louis SWCD.
SWCD boards set overall policy and
long-term objectives for their district and work with the SWCD staff to see that
policies and plans are implemented. They are not paid a salary; however, they
do receive compensation for attending meetings and are reimbursed for expenses.
Many of an
SWCD authorities are established under
Minnesota Statutes Chapter 103C - Soil and Water Conservation District Law.
See Minn. Stat. § 103C.331 - Powers of District Boards.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts are
funded through a variety of sources. Many of their program administration
dollars and funding for landowner projects are state dollars allocated by the
legislature and passed-through the State Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).
General operating funds are obtained from BWSR, counties, fees for service and
grants or partnership agreements with the federal government or other