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Virginia's Soil and Water Conservation Districts

Soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) were established in the 1930s to develop comprehensive programs and plans to conserve soil resources, control and prevent soil erosion, prevent floods and conserve, develop, utilize and dispose water. Today, forty-seven districts serve as local resources for citizens in nearly all Virginia localities. Districts, which are political subdivisions of the state, manage conservation programs, employ staff and deliver conservation services free of charge.

Since the mid-1980s, DCR has relied heavily on districts to help deliver many programs aimed at controlling and preventing nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, often on a hydrologic unit basis. With their volunteer boards and more than 150 full and part-time technical and administrative employees, districts provide a valuable delivery system for Virginia's statewide nonpoint source pollution prevention programs.

Key NPS roles

Key district NPS control and prevention efforts are:

  • Implementation of the Virginia Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program: With DCR funding and oversight, districts target millions of dollars annually to address significant agricultural water quality problems in high priority hydrologic units.
  • Local assistance with delivery of E&S control ordinances: District staffs fulfill established roles between local governments and districts as they cooperatively implement ordinances that control sediment from predominantly urban construction and development.
  • Conservation planning assistance and plan approval of farm plans in accordance with state and local requirements.
  • Districts coordinate and deliver services that support implementation of county ordinances. This includes the implementation of Virginia's Agricultural Stewardship Act. Districts may also help with agricultural provisions of local Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act ordinances.
  • Districts lend technical expertise for design and installation of agricultural conservation practices implemented voluntarily by Virginia farmers.
  • The education of clients through field days, public meetings and classroom programs.


Nearly all DCR staff members working in soil and water conservation programs interact with and provide support to districts. Some have the primary responsibilities of technical and administrative support. DCR conservation district coordinators (CDCs) serve as liaisons between the commonwealth and districts. These coordinators interact daily with district directors and employees, participate at district functions, assist with personnel management matters, oversee fiscal management, and guide NPS programs and activities.

In addition, DCR employees carry out responsibilities of the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. These include administering district financial appropriations, overseeing director elections and appointments and district boundary realignment, facilitating the implementation of technical programs among districts, and fostering cooperative working arrangements with local, state and federal agencies.

In DCR's central office, staff members develop and coordinate consistent guidance for districts concerning many administrative, financial and programmatic issues. Examples of this delivery arrangement include financial grants to districts and administering the Virginia Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program. DCR helps districts prepare four-year (long term) plans, promote services, employ staff, set performance expectations, perform audits, obtain liability and bonding insurance, conduct award programs, manage financial data and orient new directors to their official duties.

Districts' roles, work force expanded

With a work force that rapidly expanded in the late 1980s and early 1990s, districts quickly evolved into small, nonprofit business organizations. They manage conservation programs, employ staff, and deliver conservation services without charge. Because of rapid expansion and employee turnover, maintaining a well trained workforce became crucial to districts in the early 1990s.

That's why DCR staff took on another responsibility - the development, coordination and implementation of an SWCD employee orientation program. The program provides for delivery of technical and managerial training to district staff and other conservation agency employees. The goal of this innovative effort is to deliver, in a results-oriented and measurable fashion, timely, sequential, competency based training tailored to local conditions and needs. The initiative represents a new approach to employee development in Virginia by providing a positive framework for employee growth.

Click here to see the Code of Virginia regarding the duties, structure, guidelines and other legal directives of SWCDs in Virginia.