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Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District works to ensure we all have healthy, livable communities

As business and property owners, many of us pay taxes to support the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District (TSWCD).

Perhaps you've glanced at your property tax bill or maybe even a voters' pamphlet and wondered, "What is Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District?" Last month, the WEA Land Use & Housing Committee met with TSWCD's Executive Director Lacey Townsend and Natural Resources Program Manager Aaron Shaw to learn more. Pihl Excavating's Matt Pihl was also there. Matt is part of the Land Use & Housing Committee, and he is elected to TSWCD's Board of Directors.

BRANTLEY DETTMERFor those who have never heard of a conservation district, you might be surprised to learn that every county in the U.S. has one. These districts were formed after the Dust Bowl (1930s), when agriculture and life in the country's central plains were greatly damaged. The plains' soils had previously been held in place by deep-rooted native grasses, but a combination of extensive tilling and prolonged drought caused the area to be unproductive and uninhabitable. To ensure this disaster wasn't repeated, the federal government created what is now the Natural Resources Conservation Service to help landowners adopt conservation farming techniques. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed, "The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself."

Today, our TSWCD is a tremendous community asset. It provides technical assistance, financial help, and education in order to create a sustainable, productive, and healthy environment in Washington County. Its boundaries tend to follow the flow of the Tualatin River Watershed, which also closely aligns to Washington County's boundaries. As you may know, land use throughout the county varies, from forest lands in the Coast Range to agricultural lands on the valley floor to urban development. The 84-mile-long Tualatin River, with over 900 miles of tributaries, winds its way through all these distinct areas. It provides water for drinking, irrigation, industry, livestock watering, wildlife, recreation, and many other uses.

As the county's urban development and the concerns for forest health grew, it became clear TSWCD needed to expand its services. As a result, Washington County voters passed a tax levy in 2016 to provide TSWCD with more stable funding. This funding has allowed TSWCD to grow its reach by developing new conservation programs. It also allowed the district to add staff and enable it to do more public outreach through community events and educational programs, resulting in more people enrolling in conservation programs.

The district has six program areas of focus, including programs in urban, rural, and forest conservation; stream enhancement; invasive species; and conservation education. In the urban area, TSWCD partners with organizations, businesses, and individuals on conservation projects. It also empowers residents to improve backyard habitats, grow sustainable gardens, and use water wisely to maintain a healthy community. As Lacey and Aaron reminded us, urban conservation practices are vitally important for maintaining clean water and robust soils, which are the foundations for sustainable, productive, and healthy environments.

The other programs TSWCD offers help landowners and operators to reduce soil erosion, improve water use, and manage pests and nutrients; guide woodland owners to develop forest management plans, control weeds, and encourage productive forests for wildlife and the economy; offer incentives to plant native trees and shrubs along streams; educate the public on natural resources; and provide conservation tools to create a healthy and livable community. TSWCD offers several classes and workshops — Soil School, Weed Watcher Workshops, Naturescaping, and more.

TSWCD focuses on getting rid of barriers, including financial ones, and actively involving the community in conservation projects. It offers grant programs that put dollars on the ground in an effort to improve the condition of natural resources throughout the county. Organizations, businesses, and community members can apply for these grants to support conservation-related projects.

Our friends at TSWCD's work to help to create healthy, livable communities that are also good places to work and to play. Plus, the district is inclusive and shares its resources. Its staff and board believe economic health, human health, and environmental health are interconnected and necessary for livable communities. To learn more or register for a class, visit TSWCD's website at tualatinswcd.org.


Brantley Dettmer is the Chief Operating Officer of Kaiser Permanente's Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, and board president of the WEA. Learn more about the WEA at: westsidealliance.org

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