It's nice to get a letter from the Supervisor of Elections office or the state Department of State or the Department of Agriculture addressed to The Honorable Mr. C. It's nice to get a big Certificate of Election that you can hang on your wall and a little card to carry in your wallet. You even get a sticker for your car so that you can park at the meters for free. When you are an elected official that's what happens.
At events like meetings and banquets you are asked to stand and be recognized. You are treated with some deference, even at my lowly office of Supervisor of the local Soil & Water Conservation District. It's really good for the ego, ergo lies the problem.
This is my second four-year term as a Supervisor. My first term was at the turn of the Century where I got so frustrated with the old farmers who had been on the board for over 20 years and their refusal to do anything except be "honorable" that I didn't stand for re-election.
The Soil & Water Conservation Districts were formed during the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression. The loss of fertile top soil to wind and erosion was so serious that it became a national emergency, one brought to a head by Franklin Roosevelt on one of his many trips to his summer White House at Warm Springs, Georgia, where he would go to be treated for polio. (BTW, it was at the Warm Springs Institute that the Salk polio vaccine was developed.)
President Roosevelt would take long drives out into the surrounding countryside and many an old folk in the area have tales of roadside chats with him. It was on one such trip that he came across an area known as Providence Canyon on the west side of the state near the Chattahoochee River. Now a state park, Providence Canyon was formed entirely from erosion due to poor farming practices during the late 1800's to early 1900's and is a startling example of what was happening nation-wide, particularly in the mid-west and Great Plains states.
|A photo taken on a recent visit to Providence Canyon.|
As a result of that visit, Roosevelt spearheaded the creation of the Soil & Water Conservation Districts and gave them vast powers, the same powers as other constitutional government bodies, the powers of ad valorem taxation and the power of forcibly taking land through condemnation. Although those powers were almost never used, they were necessary at the time to force many a bone-headed farmer to change their ways to something as basic as contour plowing. (For the uninitiated, contour plowing is simply plowing a hill in a circle rather than straight rows over the hill so that the rows retain the rain water and soil rather than channeling it.)
It worked, and still stands as an outstanding example of a successful government program that addressed a national emergency. However, over the years as farmers became college educated agri-businessmen and millions of acres of crop-land became urban and suburban lawns, most of the Districts have lost their way and have not been able to adapt. Such is the case in my District, a county where farming has all but disappeared, except for silviculture (trees) farmers who don't need nor want any meddling from a government agency in the first place. They virtually own the state forest service and they are happy with that, but that's another story.
But here's where I plug in. A friend convinces me that I should run for office and I do and win a seat on the Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. I have more than a passing interest and concern for farming but that's not what I'm about. I am an unashamed and unrepentant treehugger and my interest lies in how we can re-birth the conservation districts to address modern, urban environmental problems. Although still plenty significant, the single most significant form of water pollution today comes not from agricultural or industrial runoff, but from urban runoff. Rain water runoff from lawns, parking lots, streets and highways... golf courses! It's what's known as non-point-source-pollution. Pollution that can't be traced to a single source.
Think about it. Every time it rains, millions of tons of totally untreated waste (dog poop), solvents, oil, rubber, soaps, pesticides, fertilizers, plastics and big gulp cups wash directly into the nearest creek and then into the nearest river and eventually into the ocean where it is now collecting in both the Atlantic and Pacific into huge hundred-square-mile trash dumps.
To be continued...