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What Is The Soil And Water Conservation District And Who Am I Voting For?

St. Peter Claver Community Garden
Louisville Metro Housing Authority
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President Franklin D. Roosevelt first established Soil and Water Conservation Districts to combat one of America’s greatest ecological disasters.

It was 1935, during the height of The Dust Bowl. Farmers watched their farms and their livelihoods dry up. Drought, compounded by poor farming practices, reduced the topsoil to a fine powder that blew away in massive rolling dust storms.

In its wake, the federal government established the Soil Conservation Service to help communities learn how to better manage their natural resources. Today, that program is called the National Resources Conservation Service.

At a community level, that program continues today in Kentucky’s 121 Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Though their budgets have shrunk, the role they provide for communities remains important today as Kentucky grapples with impacts of a changing climate.

The Jefferson County Soil and Water District’s objective is to conserve and develop the county’s natural resources to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and help landowner’s better care for their natural landscapes.

The district continues to serve the county’s farmers, but has also expanded to help organize community gardens, plant trees, enhance woodlands and educate youth. District personnel will even come out to your land, assess it and give science-based recommendations on how to best care for the soil and water.

Often, the district works with sponsors and participates in projects that help promote conservation.

Voters decide on board supervisors that govern the district’s activities. The board is made up of seven supervisors elected to four-year terms. The positions are unpaid, though they do get small reimbursements for things like driving to attend meetings.

Voters will choose three supervisors to serve the district this November.

So who’s on the ballot?

Of the five people running for the office in Jefferson County, three are returning members. The newcomers are Jasmine Woodard and James Howard Rovenski. Neither returned attempts for comment.
Raymond L. Adams Sr.
Ray Adams joined the board of supervisors in 2003 after serving nearly 30 years as an employee for the Kentucky Division of Conservation. He is one of nine state commissioners for the Kentucky’s Soil and Water Conservation Commission. Adams is interested in expanding education programs in Jefferson County, minimizing the city’s food deserts and increasing awareness of conservation districts.

“We need to make people aware of how close they depend on the soil and water for their daily lives,” Adams said.
David W. Kaelin
David Kaelin has served two terms as a supervisor and was most recently re-elected in 2014. Kaelin owns a 58-acre farm around Jeffersontown. Kaelin said the district is beneficial for every landowner in the county. On farms, they offer improvement programs to enhance wildlife habitats and help maintain fertile soil among other services. Kaelin said he would like to see the board become more involved in education programs in Jefferson County schools.

“I just feel that it’s such an important overlooked part of our community,” he said. “I just operate our family farm and utilize the programs that the conservation district has to do environmental work on the property.”
Larry W. Butler
Larry Butler previously served on the board as a vice chairman. Butler is a farmer with a 600-acre property near the Jefferson, Spencer and Bullitt county lines. He farms soybeans, corn, and wheat, and runs a small cow operation with his son. Butler said the district helps to keep the water clean and land properly drained so that the topsoil doesn’t erode.

“If I am elected, if they choose to vote for me, I will be working for them not just for myself. I will do the best to represent the people who voted for me,” Butler said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.