10/14/10 — 'Water watchers' are on fall ballot

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'Water watchers' are on fall ballot

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 14, 2010 1:46 PM

For Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor candidates, the general election on Nov. 2 isn't about flashy campaign signs, harsh political rhetoric or hot-button issues. It is simply about clean water.

Once again this year, the only candidates are the incumbents, Ronnie Parks of Mount Olive, who serves as board secretary and treasurer, and Bryant Worley of Princeton, chairman.

Being located on the bottom of the flip side of the ballot and normally uncontested, it's not unusual for people to forget all about voting for the county-wide supervisors.

Voting a straight ticket doesn't work either, the office is nonpartisan and must be marked separately to be counted. There are no districts, but efforts are made to help ensure all areas of the county are represented.

And even though the office has been around in one form or another since the 1940s, it remains a mystery to most people not associated with agriculture.

There have even been cases in which people, not familiar with what the board of supervisors does, have filed for the job thinking they were filing for one of the county's water district boards.

There is no term limit and it is not uncommon for some supervisors to serve 35 to 40 years and longer. Parks has served since 2003 and Bryant since 1990. Bryant's father, J.B. Bryant, served for a number of years and was on the first board after it became the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District in the early 1960s.

The five-member board includes three who are elected by the public and two who are appointed by the three elected members. They serve staggered four-year terms.

Raymond Casey Jr. of Goldsboro is the member up for reappointment. Thomas Uzzell of Walnut Creek is up for election and Dennis Waller of Mount Olive for reappointment in 2012.

The board meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

While there are no political platforms, the agricultural community is well aware of the office, he said. Worley said he wished more residents were aware of the board's charge, and what it does.

The local soil and water departments are under the umbrella of the state Division of Soil and Water.

Charlotte Jenkins is the local department head and USDA conservationist Patricia Gabriel works out of the department's offices at the Wayne Center.

"We help the board implement and we are the technical people," Mrs. Jenkins said. They are volunteers who care about their community and want to be a part of helping improve the water quality of their community," Ms. Gabriel said. "I would say the biggest part (of their job) would be to be aware of what resource concerns that would impact water quality in their community are.

"To be able to advise the local soil and water staff, you have first got to know what the problems are. They (board members) are on the front lines knowing what the problems are. To do this job you have really got to have a love of the resources and a concern and you want to do what you can to help."

Another thing the board can do is to lobby legislators and members have done that, she said. They also are advisors for federal programs and the county has been "getting a lot more money" on the federal side, Ms. Gabriel said.

The district office works mostly with agriculture issues, but from time to time it does work with people who have drainage issues on urban lots.

Worley said he believes the board's most important job is overseeing the distribution of the Ag Cost Share program.

"As a board we kind of rank the different (best management) practices. There is a pot full of money, but of course it keeps dwindling. Every year since I have been in the appropriation has gone down from the state legislature. The Wayne Soil and Water Board's job is to decide which practices we think are most appropriate for Wayne County. That money can be spent for anything from cropland conversion to litter storage building. As a board we try to rank which practices we think are most beneficial, what will get the most bang for our buck as far as keeping the soil in place and keeping the water clean."

The board develops the ranking sheet based on state guidelines for best management practices for water quality on an agricultural land. The office staff does the actual rankings.

"They set the priorities for the North Carolina Cost Share program," Ms. Gabriel said. "They set the priorities on how the money is allocated. They have a ranking sheet that ties into environmental and water quality concerns. The applications are ranked on these water quality concerns and the ones that make the most impact, according to the ranking sheets, get funded first."

Worley, a contract hog and turkey producer, and Ms. Gabriel view the board's job as serving as the eyes for the staff.

"They are out in the community having an idea what the resource concerns are in the community, whether not erosion in an area is causing water quality issues or pesticides," Ms. Gabriel said. "Every year they have to submit to the state a strategy plan to justify getting the funding and that is based on the needs that are determined in the county.

"For example, Wayne has many livestock operations with a lot of confined animals. That creates a water quality issue the office works with a lot," she said. "As far as the best management practices funded a lot will go to growers of confined animals because that is a bigger resource concern, but that does not mean that other areas don't get funded, too."

Worley thinks that the soil and water board will continue to have an important role to play in the county.

"Wayne County farmers have adopted the practices because of the Soil and water office," he said. "Through the Ag Cost Share program they have short- and long-term no-till programs," he said. "I don't know of any one practice that has probably helped clean up the waterways better than no-till."

He also thinks the program has received such a positive reception because of the Soil and Water office.

"Because of that there is less soil in the Neuse River, any of our rivers," he said. "Animal operations, and there are a lot in Wayne County, we have helped with the design and irrigation systems used for spray fields. They have been put in with clean water in mind ... to use the waste on our farmland without it getting in the waterways.

"About every practice we have encouraged that right down to cropland conversion, to take unproductive land or highly erodible land out of production and plant it in trees. There is no better way of keeping the water clean. Trees are a much better filter."

Even protecting topsoil is about protecting water quality, Ms. Gabriel said.

"Soil erosion is a problem predominately, because it will end up clogging up streams and piggybacking fertilizers and pesticides down the stream," she said. "So when we have soil erosion we have water quality issues.

"Making sure farmers, predominately agriculture, whether raising livestock on pasture, or crops, whether you have animals in confinement that you can be productive and still protect the environment. That is what their mission is. You want the farmers to be productive and make a living, but you have the technology and best management practices that we can offer to end up so that the environment can be protected."