About Us

Madison County SWCD is a legal subdivision of state government that is managed by a board of five elected commissioners. We work together with our partners (including the USDA-NRCS and IDALS) to address local natural resource concerns in our district.

The Commissioners

  • Mike Koch, Chairman (2019-2022)
  • Jason Hirsch, Vice Chair (2021-2024)
  • Tim Palmer, Treasurer (2021-2024)
  • Frederick Martens, Co-Treasurer (2019-2022)
  • Lisa Coverdale, Secretary (2021-2024)

Assistant Commissioner

  • Jim Gillespie


  • District Conservationist: Clay Rogers
  • Conservation Assistant: Anna Golightly
  • Soil Conservationist: Julia Gubbels
  • Soil Conservationist: Sheila Maurer
  • District Technician: Joe Moore
  • State Technician: Brett Shelton
  • Part-Time (“780”) Technician: Rick Streeter
  • MEC Contract Support Specialist: Teresa King

History of Conservation Districts

In the early 20th century, there was increasing recognition that soil erosion was a problem on farms, but the efforts of Hugh Hammond Bennett and the severe erosion that occurred during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s highlighted the critical need for soil conservation. The first soil conservation action taken by the U.S. Government was the creation of the Soil Erosion Service in 1933, which was transferred to the US Department of Agriculture in March 1935.

On April 27, 1935, the Soil Conservation Act (Public Law 74-46, which was passed unanimously by the House and Senate) was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on April 27, 1935. The law stated, “that it is hereby recognized that the wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands of the Nation, resulting from soil erosion, is a menace to the national welfare…” The law also directed the Secretary of Agriculture to establish the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) as a permanent agency in the USDA.

However, to effectively address the nation’s soil erosion concerns, a totally new, locally administered unit of government was needed – the Soil Conservation District.  On February 26, 1937, President Roosevelt sent a letter to all state governors with draft of legislation called the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts law, which would allow landowners to form voluntary soil conservation districts.

The Iowa soil conservation program was initiated in 1939 when the Iowa General Assembly passed enabling legislation to allow soil conservation Districts to organize and to provide for their administration. Legislation of the 48th General Assembly was responsible for the Conservation Districts Law and establishment of the State Soil Conservation Committee.

Iowa’s first Soil Conservation District was organized in 1940, and by 1952 all Iowa counties had Districts and commissioners. Iowa has 100 Soil Conservation Districts (one in every county, except for Pottawattamie County, which is divided into two Districts).

On September 19, 1942, a referendum was held on the “Creation of Proposed Madison County Soil Conservation District, Embracing Lands Lying in the County of Madison, in the State of Iowa” and there was an election of commissioners for proposed district, with seven candidates running for three positions. The referendum passed, and Melvin H. Jones, Robert Macumber, and R. Edward Baur were elected as the first commissioners.

The Madison County Soil Conservation District was officially organized on October 5, 1942.  By December of 1942, a Farm Planning Technician with the Soil Conservation Service, Ralph Harvey, had arrived and established an office in Winterset to assist farmers and others cooperating with the Soil Conservation District.

*Congress changed the SCS’s to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 1994, to better reflect the broadened scope of the agency’s concerns.

Learn more about the history of soil and water conservation in the U.S. and Iowa here
Learn more about the history of the NRCS here.

How Conservation Districts Work

Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) are legal subdivisions of state government. SWCDs in Iowa are managed by a board of five elected commissioners serving four-year terms.

With assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) – Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality, commissioners address the natural resource issues that are most critical in their districts.

The board of commissioners is responsible for carrying out state laws and programs within district boundaries, including erosion and sediment control laws, conservation cost-sharing (IFIP, REAP, WQI, etc.), State Revolving Fund loans, and water quality protection projects.

The Role of Commissioners

Commissioners help decide the direction of soil and water conservation programs in the county, and have the opportunity to influence state and national conservation programs.

Commissioners are expected to take part in regular monthly meetings, become knowledgeable of the SWCD laws and programs, develop and carry out soil and water resource conservation plans, and help direct financial incentives programs. Commissioners’ roles include activities such as establishing conservation priorities for the District, resolving soil loss complaints, establishing acceptable soil loss limits, publishing an annual report, approving soil conservation plans, and assisting in the management of district funds and personnel.

In the words of a commissioner: “The job of commissioner is challenging and very rewarding at the same time. A very short job description would say that Soil and Water Board Commissioners, there are five, decide how the money allocated to Madison County for soil and water conservation is spent. … In addition to all their other duties, the commissioners also work with and give guidance to the staff at the NRCS office on behalf of the residents of Madison County.” – Keith Sparks, former commissioner and Chairman.

Assistant Commissioners may be appointed by the board to assist with the activities of the District. Assistant Commissioners may act in an advisory capacity and offer suggestions or comments, but do not have a vote on the board.

How to Become a Soil and Water Conservation Commissioner

Commissioners may come from all walks of life; all you need is an interest in protecting our natural resources. If you are qualified to vote in a general election and reside in Madison County, you are eligible to be a candidate for election to the board of the Madison County SWCD.

Five commissioners are elected at general elections on a nonpartisan basis for staggered four-year terms. Up to two commissioners may reside in any one township. The position is voluntary (unpaid), though commissioners are reimbursed for expenses and protected from personal liability.

To run for election, candidates must file a Nomination Petition (with at least 25 signatures of eligible voters) and an Affidavit of Candidacy with the Madison County Auditor no later than the 69th day before the general election.Elected commissioners take an oath of office and begin their four-year term on the first business day in January (that is not a Sunday or holiday) following the election.For more information on becoming a commissioner, visit Conservation Districts of Iowa’s website here.

Conservation District Organizations

Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI) supports the soil and water conservation districts through public education, acknowledgement, commissioner development, policy, on-the-ground conservation, conservation practice promotion, events and more. CDI’s mission is to inform, educate and lead Iowans through our local soil and water conservation districts to promote conservation of natural resources.

The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that represents America’s 3,000 conservation districts and the 17,000 men and women who serve on their governing boards. NACD’s mission is to promote responsible management and conservation of natural resources on all lands by representing locally-led conservation districts and their associations through grassroots advocacy, education and partnerships.