Sherman County Soil and Water Conservation District

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Makeup of the SWCD

The SWCD is overseen by a locally elected board of directors, historically made up of farmers and ranchers living on the land. These are people who know first hand the issues that every other farmer in the county faces. Up until the 1990s, when the board hired a manager, the work was performed by the board with assistance from OSU Extension Agents and the USDA Soil Conservation Service (SCS). 

In the past, SCS was on hand to provide needed technical support (by way of engineering, soil scientists, mapping, crop and range specialists) to assist the SWCD in addressing natural resource issues. At its peak in the late 1950s, SCS was providing a technical staff of four in Sherman County. While that partnership is still strong, USDA technical support has steadily declined. Today, the SCS, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), provides a technical staff of two. In response to the loss of staff support and an increasing workload, the SWCD has slowly and steadily built its own technical capacity and currently employs a professional staff of four.

SWCD Accomplishments

The SWCD uses its newsletter to publicize projects, for feedback, and get information out to the community. The SWCD along with its partnering agencies, conducts workshops on numerous natural resource and agricultural topics, and tries to sponsor one conservation tour a year.

Following the February 1996 flood disaster near Rufus, the SWCD led the effort to develop a Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan for Gerking Canyon Watershed to reduce vulnerability to flood disasters. In 1999 the SWCD obtained a Hazard Mitigation Grant from FEMA to implement mitigation measures which prompted the District to request emergency assistance from USDA through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). As a result, NRCS brought in engineering personnel to assist in design work. The SWCD generated permits and agreements, and paid for construction through EWP, and OWEB funds. A total of 51 projects were completed from March-November 1996 protecting homes, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure, at a cost of $89,800.

In 1999 when the steelhead were listed as a threatened species, the SWCD worked to gain recognition of local conservation efforts and the proven conservation planning methodology employed by NRCS and the Districts. This effort, partnered by Sherman, Gilliam and Wasco County SWCDs, USFWS, NRCS, NOAA, and others, was launched to provide a safe haven to farmers actively engaged in conservation. On April 22, 2004, NOAA Fisheries signed a biological opinion covering conservation on non-irrigated cropland, range, pasture, and associated riparian areas. What this means is that farmers in Gilliam, Sherman, and Wasco Counties, following an approved NRCS conservation plan are protected from incidental steelhead “takes” during farming operations. The next step, currently underway, is to achieve the same result for irrigated cropland.

In 2000, the SWCD recruited people for a local advisory committee to work with Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop the Lower Deschutes Ag Water Quality Management Area Plan, which covers a portion of Sherman County. The program, known in Oregon as SB-1010 is designed to help the agricultural community address its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act while retaining local control versus having EPA step in and dictate what people will do. It allows flexibility for ag producers on ways they can achieve the goals of the plan. In 2002 the SWCD became the Local Management Agency for the development of the Lower John Day Ag Water Quality Management Area Plan. These plans have been adopted and will be reviewed every two years with the assistance of the SWCD.

The Buck Hollow watershed project was proposed by Sherman County Soil & Water Conservation District in 1985 and planning began with 11 members of an assessment team. Team members included biologists, an economist, an agronomist, a hydrologist, soil scientist, geologist, and an engineer along with members of the Soil Conservation Service and landowners involved in the Sherman County Soil & Water Conservation District. Efforts to further the restoration project continued when neighboring Wasco County decided to participate in 1991 and funding was granted by then(GWEB) Governors Watershed Enhancement Board now (OWEB) Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. The multi-phase project was initiated in 1991 and the 8th phase of the OWEB project was completed in 2006. Sherman County landowners in the Buck Hollow watershed have chosen to form a watershed council to continue their efforts to protect the watershed. Projects consisted primarily of erosion control practices on agricultural and rangelands. Other projects included off stream watering for wildlife and livestock, and enhancements to rangeland health. These projects aimed at restoring the watershed function to reduce peak runoff events, and provide a more stable delivery of clean water to Buck Hollow Creek. The phrase “capture, store and safely release” became the motto of this watershed, and with a ridge top to ridge top approach, represented the philosophy of how this watershed was treated. Though the primary focus of the project was on restoring watershed function, education soon became a valuable asset as well. Local school science programs began to participate in watershed monitoring and even actively participating in restoration activities such as riparian tree planting. Exposing young people to the awareness of watersheds and how their daily activities affect watershed health and function is a valuable investment in the future of our natural resources. The resource conservation work that takes place in our watersheds continues on a daily basis. Active restoration and management practices are out there all the time. Land managers invest considerable time and money to ensure their land is capable of providing a living while sustaining the health and function of the environment. Though we work everyday to ensure the protection of our watersheds, the results of our efforts can usually only be seen by the general public during events such as the one photographed on January 3, 2007 at the confluence of Buck Hollow and the Deschutes River.

In addition to our many other achievements, the Sherman County SWCD has succesffully completed two Watershed Assesments within the past few years, one in the Grass Valley Canyon Watershed and one in the Pine Hollow/Jackknife Watershed  as well. Click here to view the Grass Valley Canyon Assessment. Click here to view the Pine Hollow/Jackknife Assessment.
As seen in this January 3rd photograph, the clear Buck Hollow Creek running into the muddy Deschutes River shows the result of the watershed restoration efforts achieved during the Buck Hollow Watershed Project.
Sherman County Soil and Water Conservation District ®  302 Scott Street P.O. Box 405, Moro, OR  97039