Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts were created in the late 1960s with the passage of LB 1357 by the Nebraska Legislature. The districts were formed to provide a locally elected entity that could implement portions of the state water plan.
The predecessors to the NRD system were Soil Conservation Districts. The SCDs were set up in Nebraska in 1937 to provide sponsorship for the Soil Conservation Service, part of a federal plan for soil conservation. The first state Soil Conservation Committee helped form the new SCDs and by the end of 1949, Nebraska became the first state west of the Mississippi to have all its 93 counties organized into conservation districts.
Through the years, the Soil Conservation Committee slowly evolved, becoming the Soil and Water Conservation Committee in 1951 and the Soil and Water Conservation Commission in 1969. In 1972, it became the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission. The NRC was responsible for soil and general water-resources planning. It has now merged with the Department of Water Resources to form the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources.
Warren Fairchild was executive secretary of the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission in the late 1960s. He worked with State Senator Maurice Kremer of Aurora and together, they are credited with building Nebraska’s Natural Resources District system.
A plan merging nearly 500 special purpose districts, including soil and water conservation, watershed conservancy, and drainage districts, and other natural resources agencies, into 24 natural resources districts began to take shape. In 1966, delegates to the 26th annual conference of the Nebraska Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts passed a resolution calling for consideration of legislation reorganizing districts along hydrological boundaries.
The resolution also called for the districts to be of sufficient size to fund and aid operations, granting them powers to carry out comprehensive land and water development programs. To maintain local control, the resolution also said locally elected officials should govern the districts.
The creation of Natural Resources Districts was not without controversy. NRDs were formed by the consolidation of nearly 500 special purpose districts and many of the board members of those districts didn’t support the consolidation, feeling they were doing a good job already.
Warren Fairchild lobbied for the commission members for support of re-organization, and after some “fiery” debate, a resolution requesting the legislature pursue the matter passed… 57 for, 42 against.
State Senator Maurice Kremer of Aurora and State Senator Jules Burbach of Crofton introduced LB 1357 in the 1969 Legislative Session. The bill’s introduction led members of some soil and water conservation districts to organize opposition to the legislation and hire a lobbyist.
The opposition failed. At the annual meeting of the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission, a resolution to oppose re-organization was defeated. Two days later, September 16, 1969, the Unicameral passed LB 1357. The vote was 29 for, 9 against and 11 not voting.
Those opposed to the creation of NRDs continued to campaign against the new districts. The group ultimately filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NRD law. The court challenges continued until April 1974, when the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the NRD system.
LB 1357 was landmark legislation and no other state in the nation has an entity like Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts. Part of what makes NRDs unique is that they are governed locally, with board members representing sub-districts within the NRD.
The Natural Resources Districts are organized along hydrologic boundaries. This process was easier in eastern Nebraska where the boundaries are more pronounced. It was more difficult in western Nebraska where those boundaries are less pronounced, so county lines were often used.
Natural Resources Districts were formed by legislation passed in 1969 that merged several existing agencies, including Soil and Water Conservation Districts. with 54 directors, some former SWCD directors, some appointees. The legislation said all directors of the former agencies would become directors of the new NRD. All or parts of 16 counties make up the Lower Loup NRD and almost every county had a soil and water conservation district. So the Lower Loup NRD started its existence
The enabling legislation allowed the new NRDs to form an executive committee to manage the affairs of the district until the public could vote in a new board. Due to the sheer geographic size of the Lower Loup, the executive committee voted to maintain a board of 21 directors. There are still 21 directors on the board today.
The Executive Committee selected Ord as the location of the NRD headquarters office. Ord’s central location in the District was a key to its selection. Columbus, Albion, and Loup City were also considered as possible sites.
In the early days, former NRD Manager Richard Beran said, it was sometimes difficult to get board members to pull in the same direction. He said that stemmed from the fact that the Lower Loup NRD is as unique east to west as the state of Nebraska is east to west. People in the Sandhills had never worked with people in the east, and the needs of a rancher in the range country were often different from those of the farmer in the east.
Beran said the directors quickly found common bonds in the soil and water programs and the District tree-planting program. These programs were similar to SWCD programs, just done on a larger scale.
The District started with two employees, General Manager Richard Beran and Administrative Secretary Rita Goldfish. Beran has now retired, but Goldfish is still with the District. Ray Guggenmos of Burwell became the third employee when he was hired as an NRD technician. He retired in 2006.
Beran said that the first meeting was an all-director meeting in the upper level of the Legion Club in St. Paul in July of 1972. He said the board considered rotating meetings at locations across the district, but it wasn’t practical to move the business end. The first meeting in Ord was held with tables made of sheets of plywood lying over sawhorses at a building downtown.
Copyright 2010 Lower Loup Natural Resources District
Trees. They stand silent and strong…protecting farms and ranches as livestock or farmstead windbreaks and controlling snow as living snow fences.
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