As a result of the economic and agricultural devastation of the dust storms of the 1920’s, Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett, a North Carolina native, urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress to pass legislation in 1937 that led to Soil Conservation and locally led conservation programs. That same year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Chapter 139 of the NC General Statutes which allowed for Soil and Water Conservation Districts to be formed.
The Durham Soil and Water Conservation District was initially part of the Neuse River Soil Conservation District, established March 22, 1939. Districts in NC at that time were established by watershed rather than jurisdicional boundaries and the District area incompassed Durham, Wilson, Orange, Johnston and Wake Counties. But in the 1960’s Districts in NC began splintering off into smaller “county-based” districts due to the diversity of program needs within the watersheds.
So on February 2, 1965 the Durham Soil & Water Conservation District was formed. The first 5 member Board of Supervisors were; C.M. Ladd, H.G. McFarland, J.Q. Shaw, R.F. Cooke and J.L. Parrish. In those early days supervisors were elected to serve through a “shoe box election” held at country stores. But in 1974, the Durham SWCD Board Supervisors began running on the general election ballots at the same time as other county officials.
From 1965 until the mid 1980’s the main focus of the District was providing technical assistance to the agriculture community. Numerous Best Management Practices (BMP’s) were installed, mainly in the Little River and Lake Michie watersheds. As a result of these efforts both reservoirs provide drinking water to Durham citizens that are not impaired from a state standard point of view. On the other hand, with the arrival of Research Triangle Park (RTP) and the increase in urbanization, the District began to notice new environmental problems on the horizon. Sediment deposits into the watercourses from urbanization, atmospheric deposition, rise in downtown temperature, litter as a result of humans all have contributed to negative effects downstream. By the late 80’s the District began to see the need for programs that address areas outside of traditional agriculture.
Today the District has diversified its programs to meet the ever changing needs of Durham County, while still serving as the primary agency and voice for agriculture in Durham. This diversification has gained the District and its employees recognition through various awards in recent years. Stream/Stormwater Restoration Program, Community Conservation Assistance Program, Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Program, Watershed Management, Agricultural Cost Share Assistance Program, Agricultural Water Resources Assistance Program, Farmland Protection Program, Agricultural Business Development, Environmental Education Program and more.