Soil and Water Conservation

By: Tracé Etienne-Gray

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: October 1, 1995

Information concerning soil and water conservation efforts in Texas is difficult to attain for the period prior to 1930. However, the nonstop production of cotton in the nineteenth and early twentieth century did have a devastating effect on Texas soil. Records show that between 1926 and 1937 land used for cotton production lost a yearly average of 7 tons of soil per acre when planted on a 2 percent slope. The figures for corn grown on the same type of acreage were even worse, accounting for the loss of over ten tons of soil per acre. The erosion in Texas mirrored a larger national problem during the 1930s, and Congress established the Soil Conservation Service to combat the problem. As an arm of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Soil Conservation Service was charged with developing and carrying out a permanent national soil and water conservation program. Under the Texas Soil Conservation Law of 1939, local districts were established to implement conservation programs. Districts were administered by a governing body of five local landowners, elected by neighboring landowners, who served without pay. The SCS provided technical assistance to these districts. By 1941 Texas had sixty-five districts committed to improving the condition of Texas soil and water. Methods included promoting crop rotation, designing long-term conservation plans, and providing educational and informational programs. Funding for projects was derived from state appropriations, private contributions, and district earnings. In the early 1980s the SCS conducted a survey of the districts and determined that the top five conservation problems included improper grazing management; undesirable brush and weed; water erosion on cropland; wind erosion on cropland; and ineffective irrigation water management. Farmers also cited the following as indirect problems: high costs of conservation methods; absentee ownership of lands; contradictory objectives of government policies; and increased restriction on agricultural chemicals. In the 1970s surveys indicated that 130,112,079 of the 159,918,245 acres of agricultural land would need conservation treatment. In 1967 500 watersheds of 250,000 acres or less required cooperative action by groups of landowners or operators with flood or other water management problems. By the 1980s Texans irrigated close to eight million acres of land annually with agricultural land accounting for 75 percent of fresh water consumption. In 1992 irrigation had dropped to only six million acres. As of January 1993 Texas had 211 conservation soil and water districts. See also STATE SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION BOARD.

D. Harper Simms, The Soil Conservation Service (New York: Praeger, 1970). Soil and Water Conservation: The Texas Approach (Temple, Texas: Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, 1981).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

TracĂ© Etienne-Gray, “Soil and Water Conservation,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995