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NRCS History Publications

USDA-Watershed-Programs-Facts-Figures-document-coverThe USDA Watershed Programs have had a huge impact on rural communities and natural resources over the past 75 years. They have resulted in one of the best collections of program and natural resource data of any federal program in the nation. However, locating the data and keeping it current has been a challenge, especially with the loss of institutional knowledge due to the retirements of so many of the generations of NRCS employees and project sponsors who were involved in the planning, implementation, and maintenance of the original watershed projects.

Larry Caldwell, an engineer who has worked with the Watershed Programs during his entire 51-year career with NRCS and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, prepared this collection of information on the history, program implementation, and impacts of the watershed program from many different sources including engineering, program, and the National Inventory of Dams (NID) files.

The purpose of this document is to provide a comprehensive summary of watershed information in one place. It provides brief descriptions and some context for key legislative authorities, technology developments, inventories, and results that track the evolution of the watershed movement over the past seven decades. Hopefully, this document will be helpful for future generations of NRCS staffs, project sponsors, and other stakeholders interested in the watershed program.

This document describes where we have been, where we are today, and challenges for the future. Some of these data should be considered a “snapshot-in-time” look at the status of the Watershed Program since new dams will be built, more dams will be rehabilitated, and monetary benefits will increase due to inflation and land use changes. However, these data provide the basis for a description of the scope of the Watershed Program in each state. Some sections contain Caldwell’s personal interpretations based on his research, personal experiences, and more than 50 years of professional work history with the watershed program.

USDA Watershed Programs Facts & Figures (PDF)


NRCS Historical Notes:


1. Readings in the History of the Soil Conservation Service (1992)

2. Engineering in the Soil Conservation Service (1993)

3. Interviews with Chiefs of the Soil Conservation Service: Williams, Grant, Davis, and Berg (1994)

4. The Soil Conservation Service Responds to the 1993 Midwest Floods (1994)

5. Historical Changes in Soil Erosion, 1930-1992: The Northern Mississippi Valley Loess Hills (1996)

6. Conservation and Culture: The Soil Conservation Service, Social Science, and Conservation on Tribal Lands in the Southwest (1997)

7. The National Cooperative Soil Survey of the United States (1957, 1998)

8. The History of Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting (2008)

NRCS Historical Insights

1. The Soil Bank (1985)

2. Third Party Vendors in Conservation (2002)

3. Performance Based Conservation: The Journey to Green Payments (2003)

4. Soil Conservation in New Zealand and the United States (2003)

5. Technical Assistance: The Engine of Conservation (2005)

6. Leveraging Farm Policy for Conservation (2006)

7. Hydrologic and Hydraulic Research in the Soil Conservation Service (2007)

8. Hugh Hammond Bennett and the Creation of the Soil Erosion Service (2008)

9. Hugh Hammond Bennett and the Creation of the Soil Conservation Service (2010)

10. Soil and Water Conservation Expenditures by USDA Agencies, 1935-2010 (2011)