Huh? What's a Soil and Water Conservation District?

One of the most perplexing items demanding the attention of Albemarle County voters is the election of directors to the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District.


The candidates on the November 4 ballot– Nick Evans and Steven Meeks– are the two incumbents on the district's board representing Albemarle, so it's not even a contested race.

And just what does a soil and water conservation district do? According to Evans, 47 districts across Virginia were established during the 1930s (remember the Dustbowl in The Grapes of Wrath?) to allow local decision-making on soil loss and water quality degradation.

"In today's Virginia, threats to water quality have shifted from poor farming practices, which have been largely addressed, to the ravages of rampant development which converts farmland and forested land to housing developments, roads, and parking lots," explains Evans in an email.

The districts are part of state government, and collectively they decide how millions of federal, state, and local dollars are allocated in the name of water resource protection. The Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District's portion of those funds runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Evans says.

The local district includes Albemarle, Nelson, Fluvanna, and Louisa counties, with Charlottesville noticeably absent, "the hole in the doughnut," says Evans.

It has five paid staff; the elected directors are unpaid.

So why does the public vote?

"In my view, districts are a vehicle of empowerment for localities to utilize state and federal resources (money) to address local problems in areas of water quality and natural resource conservation," says Evans. Forcing directors to stand for election assures that "the purse strings will not fall into the hands of a group of people who have their own special interests in mind, rather than the long-term interests of the community."

Still, not everyone sees the point of electing rather than appointing– soil and water conservation directors.

"Having worked the polls the past few years, it's one of the most asked questions about who to vote for," says Republican activist Paul Wright. "I think they should be appointed because no one understands what it is."


Nick Evans


Soil and Water Director incumbent candidate

Nick Evans

Age: "Mid-life"

Day job: President, Virginia Groundwater LLC

Immediate family: Wife Beth; son Jonathan, 14 and daughter Jackie, 12

Party: Democrat

Why run? Those of us who have something to contribute and are committed to making a difference need to step forward...

Past political experience: Elected to the Soil & Water Conservation District Board representing Albemarle County, 1999; Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, Class of 2000

Political hero: Jimmy Carter

Past newsworthiness: Too much to list

George Bush called himself the education candidate. What candidate are you? I guess I'm the water guy.

Most influential book: When it comes to water and public policy, Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

If you were to come back as an animal, what would it be? Mountain goat

Motto: Live each day.


Steven Meeks


Soil and Water Director incumbent candidate

Steven Meeks

Age: 43

Day job: Rental property manager, custom renovation

Immediate family: Daughter Jenna, 9

Party: Independent

Why run? To serve my community

Past political experience: Incumbent and most senior director, first elected in 1989. Worked for George Allen as a legislative assistant.

Political hero: Teddy Roosevelt

Past newsworthiness: County fair, county historian, gypsy moth program, chairman of the Albemarle County 250th anniversary

George Bush called himself the education candidate. What candidate are you? Preservationist

Pet peeve: People who gossip

Most influential book: Bid Time Return, which was made into a movie, Somewhere in Time

If you were to come back as an animal, what would it be? Grizzly bear

Motto: Do unto others before they do it to you.