In the 1930s, as the Dust Bowl swept across the nation relocating an estimated 300 million tons of soil, Americans realized the devastating effects of soil erosion. Legislation began to take shape to better manage and conserve the nation’s soil. Despite these actions, Missouri was still plagued with high erosion rates.

Missouri Soil and Water Conservation Districts

The State Soil and Water Districts Commission was created in 1943 to administer the soil and water conservation districts and formulate policies and general programs for the saving of Missouri soil and water through the county soil and water conservation districts. Missouri joined the movement to localize soil and water efforts when Harrison County formed the first soil and water conservation district in 1944. In 1996, Washington County became the last of Missouri's 114 counties to organize as a district.

The Soil and Water Conservation Program carries out the policies of the Soil and Water Districts Commission following the Soil and Water Districts Law (Chapter 278, RSMo). The program promotes good farming techniques that help keep soil on the fields, our waters clean and conserves the productivity of Missouri’s working lands.

Each soil and water conservation district is governed by a board of five supervisors, responsible for all district actions and employees. Four supervisors on each board are resident county agricultural landowners or their legal representative elected to serve four-year terms. The fifth is a representative from University of Missouri Extension.

In 1982, Missouri was losing soil at a rate of 10.9 tons per acre each year on cropland, one of the highest rates of erosion in the nation. In order to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality as well as support Missouri state parks, Missouri voters passed a one-tenth-of-one-percent sales tax in 1984, now called the Parks, Soils and Water Sales Tax.  The tax funds are divided equally between the Department of Natural Resources Soil and Water Conservation Program and Missouri State Parks. Slightly more than two-thirds of Missouri voters renewed the tax in 1988 and 1996, and 70.8 percent voted in favor in 2006. In 2016, all 114 counties approved the sales tax renewal resulting in the highest approval to date at 80.1 percent.

Missouri’s soil and water program is a role model for the nation. Other states envy Missouri for its dedicated tax and support of soil and water conservation. Since 1982, Missouri’s soil erosion rate dropped more than any other state with more than 10 million acres of cropland. It is estimated that more than 179 million tons of soil have been saved since passage of the sales tax.

The sales tax provides financial incentives that share the cost between the farmer and the state of implementing the installation of soil and water conservation practices that prevent or control excessive soil erosion and protect water quality.

Missouri has come a long way since the sales tax was first approved in 1984; however, there is still work to be completed. Issues affecting soil health, soil erosion, water quality can have detrimental effects on Missouri’s natural resources and agricultural productivity. Research and water quality monitoring can help verify that soil and water conservation practices are working as intended. With your continued support, we can help make Missouri an even better place to live, work and enjoy the outdoors.

Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation History

The Dust Bowl focused national attention on the need for soil conservation and better farming practices. In Franklin County, Monsignor George J. Hildner of the St. John's Gildehaus Church was already working toward that. 

In 1935, Msgr. Hildner helped organize the Dubois Creek Watershed Project which demonstrated how to prevent erosion and other soil problems. He even allowed the church's own 33.5 acre farmland to be part of the project. Equipment and supplies for the Dubois Creek effort were provided by the Soil Erosion Service.  Labor was provided by the cooperating farmers and workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Due to the demonstration project and the work of Monsignor Hildner and other community members, the public began to understand the causes of erosion and how it could be controlled. People saw that worn out and eroded soils could be restored, and that profitable farming didn't have to include excessive soil erosion.

In 1936, Federal legislation enacted the legal basis for organizing soil conservation districts. This granted authority for states to permit the organization of districts. Hildner had worked hard for years to get a district enabling act passed by the Missouri state legislature. Msgr. Hildner, along with a number of leaders across the state, had promoted soil conservation for years. They were convinced that soil districts would be the most effective method of reaching the majority of farm owners. These men donated much of their time and energy to get Senate Bill 80 passed by the legislature in 1943. 

The organization of the district in Franklin County included the following required steps: First, a petition signed by 364 landowners to hold a public meeting. Second, a public hearing was conducted on Jan. 3, 1944 by one or more of the members of the State Soils District Commission and found favorable for a referendum. Third, a referendum was held on Feb. 5, 1944, with 850 farmers voting for the district and 115 against it. Four district supervisors were elected on Feb. 26, 1944. The county was divided into four areas based on watershed.  

  • Area I composed of the Boles, Calvey and Prairie townships
  • Area II composed of the St. John's, Union and Central townships
  • Area III composed of the Boone and Meramec townships
  • Area IV composed of the Boeuf and Lyon townships

On March 20, 1944, Franklin County was the second district organized in Missouri. The district board of supervisors developed a district program covering the long range program of work to be done and the annual plan of action. The board requested technical assistance from the Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two trained conservation personnel were assigned to assist landowners in planning and applying soil conservation practices on their farms.

When the soil and water conservation district was first organized, state policy limited technical assistance to land in non-incorporated areas. The main objective at that time was to stop soil erosion on farmland.  Eventually silt deposits and erosion problems were recognized in urban areas. The State Commission amended their policy and technical assistance could be given to land in urban areas. Many of the same practices and techniques once used only on farm land are now being used in parks, on roads, school grounds, in subdivision and on individual urban lots.