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Remember when you flip over your election ballot and see the Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor? Your immediate thought is what is that and who am I voting for?! (Or is that just me?) Well, say hello to your Soil & Water Conservation District supervisor, Laura Zanmiller.
Today we’re going to learn more about this board and the election process.
“I serve because I am passionate about our environment, and I enjoy helping others see how they can make a difference.”Laura Zanmiller
About the Soil & Water Conservation District
The Dakota County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is a county-level board that oversees land and water conservation, including stormwater management, landscaping, and agriculture. The board meets monthly and is made up of five members from districts throughout Dakota County (the districts are different than the districts for the Dakota County Board of Commissioners). West St. Paul is in District 2, along with Mendota Heights, South St. Paul, Sunfish Lake, and part of Inver Grove Heights.
You can check out the 2019 Annual Report to see more specifics about what they do. If you really want to dive into the weeds, there’s a 70th anniversary slide show, which includes a lot of historic pictures (and a few shots of former SWCD Supervisor and current State Representative Rick Hansen).
Board members serve four-year terms and receive a monthly stipend and expenses. If you’re interested in being on this board, the filing period is open through June 2. Learn more about how to run for office.
For such an obscure position, the election is often competitive. In 2010 and 2014 there were four candidates and 2012 saw a six-way race. The last election in 2016 only had two candidates, but it was relatively even—Zanmiller won with 51.5% of the vote.
Meet Laura Zanmiller
Zanmiller is the board member for District 2, which includes West St. Paul. First elected in 2012, she plans to run again this year. Her day job is a probation officer and she’s married with three daughters and two granddaughters. Her hobbies include gardening, hiking, camping, and volunteering.
And if the Zanmiller name sounds familiar, yes, her husband is former West St. Paul Mayor John Zanmiller.
Taking With Laura Zanmiller
So let’s talk to Laura Zanmiller and learn more about the SWCD.
What does the SWCD Board do?
The SWCD is responsible for implementing voluntary conservation practices that improve both our soils and our water quality. The SWCD was formed as a result of the 1930s Dust Bowl, when farming practices and drought resulted in major soil losses.
Fast forward to today, the SWCD continues to work with farmers on a voluntary basis, but also works with suburban and urban land owners. The board of supervisors is responsible for setting policy and ensuring projects get done.
Dakota County is unique in that it is comprised of all three types of land uses—rural, suburban and urban. In addition to farmers, Dakota County SWCD partners with cities, churches, schools, and individuals to implement voluntary conservation projects. There are expenses with these projects and the need for expertise, this is how the SWCD helps, with cost share or grants, and the expertise to put projects in the ground. For example, individuals may participate in the Landscaping for Clean Water courses offered throughout Dakota County and sponsored by our SWCD. I participated in this program and put a rain garden in my front yard prior to being a SWCD supervisor.
Can you point to some specific projects that you’ve had influence on?
Some projects I have had influence on include projects at Heritage Middle School, Harmon Park, Cherokee Park, and Thompson Park to name a few.
How controversial do SWCD issues get? Do you get much public input or comment?
The work done by SWCD is voluntary, and has no authority to make people comply with any conservation practice. However, when Governor Mark Dayton wanted the buffer law enforced, SWCDs were placed in the spotlight because it was their expertise and funding resources that were needed to help farmers implement the law. Dakota County was already 98% in compliance with this buffer law prior to Governor Dayton, thanks to our County board who wanted this law enforced. Dakota County became a role model for all the other SWCDs in Minnesota in how to gain compliance.
The Landscaping for Clean Water workshops have increased people’s awareness of SWCDs as indicated by their increasing popularity with Dakota County residents. A recent program enacted by our legislature, Lawns to Legumes allows for pollinator friendly plants to replace traditional grasses, will also be a program that is sure to increase SWCDs visibility.
Why do you serve? What do you like about it?
I serve because I am passionate about our environment, and I enjoy helping others see how they can make a difference.
Thanks to Laura Zanmiller for serving on this obscure board and helping us understand it better.
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