Northern Virginia Soil & Water Conservation District
History and Functions

Original source - Fairfax County Republican Committee

Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) were established in the 1930s to develop comprehensive programs and plans to conserve soil resources, control and prevent soil erosion and sedimentation, prevent floods and conserve, develop, utilize and safely dispose of floodwater. Arkansas became the first state to pass enabling legislation in 1937. North Carolina authorized the very first district also in 1937. Virginia's enabling legislation was passed in 1938, the same year as Virginia's first SWCD, the Tidewater SWCD, was formed in Essex County.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts, often referred to as SWCDs, are "political subdivisions of state government" that utilize state, federal, and private resources to solve conservation problems. A political subdivision of state government is:

Created by the legislature to exercise some portion of the state's sovereignty in regard to one or more specific governmental functions. It is independent from other state governmental bodies, in that it may exercise those powers conferred upon it by law without seeking the approval of a superior authority. It employs its own consultants, attorneys, accountants, and other employees whose salaries are fixed by the political subdivision, and it often incurs debts which are not debts of the Commonwealth but are debts of the political subdivision.

In other words, political subdivisions have only the authority granted to them by the legislature and detailed in the Code of Virginia. Examples of political subdivisions of state government in Virginia include but are not limited to local government entities, soil and water conservation districts, transportation districts, and planning districts. Essentially, the Soil and Water Conservation District is a subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia and a means for exercising local conservation leadership. The guiding philosophy behind all SWCD's is that decisions on conservation issues should be made at the local level, by local people.

Founded in 1945 by citizens concerned about conserving natural resources, the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD) is now one of 47 conservation districts in Virginia, some multi-county, and approximately 3,000 nationwide. Almost all U.S. land is covered by a SWCD. The NVSWCD is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, governed by a five-member BOD. Three directors are elected in the general election every four years, and two, including a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent serving Fairfax County, are appointed by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. Its boundaries are the same as those of Fairfax County, home to over 1.2 million people. When formed in 1945, the district consisted of Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun Counties. Since then Prince William and Loudoun Counties have both formed districts within their county boundaries leaving us in Fairfax County with the Northern Virginia SWCD name.

The NVSWCD is a locally-led conservation agency with a long history of responding to Fairfax County’s changing rural to urban landscape, transitioning programs based on identified needs. The NVSWCD is valued for its leadership in using new and emerging techniques to address natural resource problems. It has an outstanding staff of technical specialists. With Fairfax County, the NVSWCD is a co-sponsor of the Pohick Watershed Flood Control Project. Many of you are familiar with the flood control, recreational, and environmental benefits provided by the project's six dams forming Lake Royal, Lake Braddock, Huntsman Lake, Woodglen Lake, Lake Barton, and Lake Mercer.

The NVSWCD is not a regulatory agency. Instead, it collaborates with Fairfax County and other partners to provide conservation information, technical assistance, educational programs, and volunteer opportunities to residents on many aspects of erosion and sediment control, improving water quality, preventing non-point source pollution, and improving stream health. It encourages voluntary compliance with environmental laws. It also connects residents with environmental initiatives and opportunities through the Watershed Calendar, Green Breakfast and Conservation Currents news updates. The NVSWCD’s contribution is its expert natural resource technical assistance in areas such as soils science, engineering, agronomy, equine management, watershed management, hydrology, etc.

The NVSWCD BOD meets the fourth Tuesday of every month to discuss district business. The meetings are held in the Herrity Building, 12055 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax, on the 9th floor. Meetings begin at 9:30 AM (unless announced otherwise) and are open to the public. The Executive Committee meets at 8:30 AM prior to the Board meeting. The NVSWCD BOD Technical Review Committee meets on the third Tuesday of every month, starting at 10:00 AM, same place.