When the Wise Soil and Water Conservation District was created in 1979, the five-member governing board spent the majority of its time dealing with issues such as severe erosion from the Dust Bowl days, waste from the county’s 200-plus dairies and preservation of natural resources on the big farms and ranches.
Today’s five member board still works to solve the problem of erosion, but now they are dealing with major pipeline companies and the effect their construction has on the environment. They also deal with the results of homes being built too close to flood retardant dams, work with absentee landowners and offer guidance to folks who move to the county in order to have a few acres around them.
The ability to change to meet the needs of a changing county has earned the Wise Soil and Water Conservation District the top award in Area V of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Texas. Wise County’s board came out on top of 41 districts that cover 51 counties.
Chairman Cody Gillispie of Greenwood and board members Merlin Remmele of Cottondale, Bill Fennell of Rhome, Wayne Long of Decatur and Paul Wood of Boonsville were on hand Tuesday at Tarleton State University in Stephenville to accept the award for the Outstanding Conservation District. They were accompanied by Wise SWCD staff member Garry Bible and Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist Darnell Willis.
Willis was also honored at the annual banquet as his boss, Alfonso Leal of Weatherford, assistant state conservationist, presented him with a leather briefcase in appreciation for the outstanding job he does with the Wise SWCD.
A three-year project to improve the water quality of Eagle Mountain Lake in neighboring Tarrant County is an example of cooperation and teamwork. Wise SWCD is working with Tarrant Regional Water District, Wise County Water Control Improvement District No. 1, Wise County commissioners and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to help landowners in the lake’s watershed in Wise County to plan and implement conservation practices.
With a staff of four part-time district technicians, the Wise SWCD has developed more than 200 conservation plans with agricultural producers to implement practices that will help control sediment and nutrients flowing into the lake, thereby extending the life of the lake and improving its health.
Wise SWCD currently has three active watershed projects including the Big Sandy Creek, Salt Creek and Denton Creek Watershed projects. All of the land in the district drains into a Metropolitan water supply. One hundred and eight floodwater-retarding dams and land stabilization structures, and 14 miles of channel improvement have been completed to date. The district board works with Wise County Commissioners who oversee a watershed maintenance department which does an outstanding job maintaining all dams constructed.
The district has emergency action plans on 23 dams. As more and more subdivisions are built on what was formerly ranch land, the hazard classification on several dams is being modified to “high hazard,” mainly because of homes being constructed downstream.
The district is also working with the Alvord vocational agriculture department to develop an outdoor classroom. The district sells grass seed and tree seedlings to help support its many programs, including the awarding of plaques to student winners of its poster and essay contests.