Published Aug 13, 2015

Help Protect Soil and Water with Your Local Conservation District

By Steve Carlson

Whether you’re a farmer or a friend of farmer, if you have an interest in the health of Iowa’s soil and water, consider joining your local Soil and Water Conservation District as a commissioner or assistant commissioner.

Currently, 44 Practical Farmers of Iowa members are serving in their local districts, but we believe more PFI members should get involved. The commissions meet on a monthly basis, where they’re able to help share the importance of supporting agricultural practices that provide the most conservation bang-for-buck, such as cover crops, crop rotation, grazing and other continuous living cover practices. PFI provides an e-mail discussion list for our members who serve in their local soil and water conservation district to swap information among their districts.

Please contact myself or Clare Lindahl, Executive Director with Conservation Districts of Iowa, for any specific questions or consider registering for the Commissioner’s Annual Conference happening in Altoona, Iowa on September 1 and 2. Recently, Clare took the time to explain why this work is important and how you can take part:

Q: What is a Soil and Water Conservation District and what does it do?

Clare Lindahl

Clare Lindahl

Soil and Water Conservation Districts have been working to protect and improve our state’s soil and water for over 60 years.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts were formed across the nation in response to the devastation of the 1930’s Dust Bowl, which brought ecological, economic, and social misery to tens of thousands of Americans as a result of farming the land without conservation. Districts were charged with restoring and protecting the soil to ensure continued productivity, and they did so by encouraging the use of an array of conservation practices.

Today, there are 3,000 Soil and Water Conservation Districts and 17,000 commissioners across the nation. In Iowa alone, there are 100 Soil and Water Conservation Districts and 500 commissioners.  Every county has a Soil and Water Conservation District, and all Iowans, urban as well as rural, are served by them.  Commission boards are comprised of 5 commissioners, who are elected for a four-year term on a non-partisan ballot during the general election.  Assistant commissioners can be appointed by the board at any time to assist in the work of the commissioners.

Q: Who are the commissioners and assistant commissioners and what are their roles?

Commissioners guide soil and water conservation programs in the county, and have the opportunity to influence state and national conservation programs.

They do this by providing Iowans with education, technical assistance and funding to put conservation on agricultural and urban land. They work with many partners to accomplish this, most often with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship-Division of Soil Conservation, and the Department of Natural Resources; but they also partner with local governments, hunting, commodity and environmental organizations.

One of the duties of the commissioners is to identify and investigate environmental problems in the county, and to raise funds through tree sales, grant writing and other efforts to address these problems.  Commissioners also are responsible for allocating millions of federal, state and local dollars to implement conservation practices in their counties.  Bringing conservation education to all Iowans, urban as well as rural, is a significant and necessary part of this work, and county commissions frequently host field days, workshops, and meetings with state, local, and national leaders. They do this work to protect soil and ensure sustainable agriculture, to protect our water, and to provide habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife.  This work is vital to the economy of our state and the quality of life of its residents and millions of annual visitors. A Soil and Water Conservation District has a hand in nearly every conservation project in the state.

Q: Why would I want to get involved with my local SWCD?

One of the strengths of the conservation districts is that they provide a way for conservation-minded citizens to influence and participate in local soil and water stewardship.

Commissioners get to help set local priorities for natural resource protection, make decisions that will make thier county a better place to live, improve local awareness of natural resources and to give back to the land and people of Iowa.

Q: What is the process for becoming a SWCD commissioner or assistant commissioner?

Are you eligible to vote in a general election? If so, you’re an eligible candidate for election to the county Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Board of Commissioners! Each district is governed by five commissioners who are elected at the general elections on a non-partisan basis for four-year terms.

Because this is not an election year, consider getting involved as an assistant commissioner or as a volunteer. Contact your local SWCD anytime if you’re interested.

Get more information here about how to become a SWCD commissioner during the next election cycle.


We would like to welcome any PFI members to register for the Commissioner’s Annual Conference, September 1 & 2 to learn more. Find the registration packet here:

Contact Clare Lindahl, Executive Director with Conservation Districts of Iowa – the commissioner’s state association, for more information,

To connect with other PFI members serving in their local Soil and Water Conservation District, contact Steve Carlson at 515.232.5661,