Water conservation

Nobody asked, but here’s what to know about Mecklenburg County’s most overlooked race

Irwin Creek in Charlotte. Photo: Sands of Alexandria/Axios

In 2018, Cam Newton garnered 11 votes to be the Mecklenburg County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor.

This is the last office at the bottom of the poll. After voters picked their first choice for Congress, possibly skipped a few judges and marked the bubbles of recognizable names for local councils, a handful of humorous but engaged citizens thought they’d write in the pro-dabber of the city for this little-discussed office.

Two years later, Rich George, a climate activist, was campaigning early at the polls for the same position. Recruited by the county Democratic Party, George found himself in a non-partisan race, in a volatile presidential election, at the height of a pandemic.

“Absolutely no one was paying attention to the soil and the water,” says George. “Literally, I was the 42nd race on the ballot. I was on page 11. I was the fourth of four names and I had never raced before. It was a bit of an uphill battle.

But he suspects everyone he spoke to outside the polls voted for him, and he won, by a relatively small margin.

Why is this important: Soil and Water Conservation Councils may be obscure and unsexy public bodies, but they are in an influential position to promote the conservation of natural resources.

  • According to UNC School of Government.
  • Plus, you feel good, informed, and damn democratic when you fill out your entire ballot, don’t you? This supervisor role is relatively easy to choose, if you take the time to learn a little.

How it works: The Soil and Water Conservation District has no real authority. Instead, supervisors are responsible for administering grants to landowners willing to participate in conservation practices, such as installing a pet waste receptacle in their front yard or creating a garden. storm drain that collects runoff at the rear.

  • For example, if a homeowner has an eroding slope, they can request a reimbursement or cost-sharing option from the district to plant vegetation on the slope.
  • George says it’s difficult to initiate substantial change on the board, which can be frustrating. President Barbara Bleiweis says there isn’t much money to work with either.

Between the lines: In addition to managing the voluntary programs, Bleiweis says she is working on a farmland preservation plan in her capacity as a supervisor. The plan aims to save old farms and create pathways for “next generation farmers” to own and farm land.

  • “There’s this huge appetite for development, and it’s really hard to feed 1.1 million people if you’re losing (agricultural) land to neighborhoods,” Bleiweis says.

Rollback: Nearly 3,000 soil and water conservation districts operate across the country, but their unique story begins in North Carolina.

  • The story begins with Hugh Hammond Bennett, now known as “the father of soil conservation”, who raised awareness of the threats of erosion to agriculture. Bennett was from Anson County, about 40 miles east of Charlotte.
  • In 1935, as the Dust Bowl plagued the Southern Plains, Congress considered legislation to establish the Soil Conservation Service as clouded dust clouds Washington. Testifying before lawmakers, Bennett was able to explain what was happening and why, convincing them to pass the bill.

The legislation triggered, later in the 1930s, the formation of local soil and water conservation districts across the United States “We’re going to know more about the local landscape than the federal government, and the districts were born with that in mind says Bleiweis.

  • The first was installed in the Brown Creek watershed in North Carolina, Bennett’s home.

What is happening: This election cycle, two supervisor seats are open. (Three supervisors are popularly elected and two are appointed by a state commission.)

  • Bleiweis (who calls herself “Barbara at the bottom of the ballot”) and Vice President Nancy Carter are up for reelection.
  • The incumbents are challenged by Alonzo Hill and Hunter Wilson. Also, Tigress Sydney Acute McDaniel – who has also previously run for mayor, county commissioner and state house – is on the ballot.

What they say : Hill says he is running to be a voice for urban farmers who are concerned about dwindling resources and climate change. He says he has a connection through his work on food insecurity with UCITY Family Zone, a partnership to improve the quality of life in University City.

  • “I have the ear of the community,” he says.

Go further: Axios Voter’s Guide to the November 2022 Elections in Mecklenburg County

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