Warren Fairchild


Interviewee Warren Fairchild, Executive Secretary, Soil and Water Conservation Commission, 1957 - 1970; Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, 1970 - 1976; Consultant, World Bank, 1976 - 1989

Warren Fairchild

Position Held: Executive Secretary, Soil and Water Conservation Commission, 1957 - 1970; Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, 1970 - 1976; Consultant, World Bank, 1976 - 1989

Full Interview:


Jim Barr

Rachael Herpel

Associated NRDs:



MR. FAIRCHILD: The NRD program evolved through many periods of legislative and other actions. It originally goes back to 1937, and that was the enabling legislation for soil conservation districts. They were seen as the vehicle whereby the Soil Conservation Service could give technical assistance to farmers. At that time, the primary movers behind the organization of the district was University officials, and Dr. Condra from the Conservation and Survey Division was really the grand old master that worked on the legislation and also pushed for the organization of districts. For quite some time, the University, the Conservation and Survey Division, College of Agriculture, and the Extension Service were basically the people that kind of kept the program going, and every year they'd have a conference and the conference was usually in Lincoln. The conference was the soil conservation districts. As time went on, you always get a series of leaders and come and go, strong people, and others that have their own views. In the 1950s, there was some of the soil conservation figures that, certainly not in any way showing disrespect to the University, but felt that, if they were ever going to have some strength of their own, that they had to have basically their own leadership and their own body for their own association. You probably heard about these people, as Bill Richards and Everett Barr is an example; particularly Bill Richards felt very strongly about that. This caused sort of a breach at that time between Dr. Condra and all the fine work he did and the goals and aspirations and desires of the Soil Conservation District supervisors and the fact that they felt, even though they wanted to maintain liaison with the University, that they could not have the leadership and the domination from the University. And so it was at a state conference that the Soil Conservation District supervisors voted to sort of break away from that type of leadership and they would form their own state association. That would be back in the 1950s and you can check out the dates of that. I don't have these dates exactly. In my view, that was quite important that it got the local supervisors themselves really being freer to carry out some legislative and budgetary processes with the Legislature. With that type of momentum, the state association started to grow in stature. I think it was about in 1955 they were successful in getting money through the Legislature for hiring the first Executive Secretary of the State Soil Conservation Division. They hired the first executive secretary of the state committee and that happened to be Jim McDougal. Jim McDougal was with the Extension Service at the University of Nebraska, and then he hired Hazel Jenkins as his secretary. They were the first two that worked for the state committee at that time. Jim was executive secretary for almost three years, and it was at that time coming up to the next legislative session that the state associations were beginning to feel that “we've got to have some state financial assistance to districts.” The districts did not have power of taxation; they didn't have any source of revenue. So, they started to make overtures for some funding from the State Legislature. It's about that time that Jim McDougal took a job with the Hastings Bank and, for whatever reason, they hired me, and I came to work about that time. I was from the Soil Conservation Service, at that time in Gage County. One of the first things that happened that year in 1957 was that Senator Don Thompson from McCook came up one morning and the Legislature was in session. He says, “I think maybe I can get through the Legislature on the floor some funding for soil conservation districts.” He was successful. At that time, I think the first allocation to the state committee was about $27,000 for a biennium. It wasn't much. But then, he increased it, and I think the appropriation went up to somewhere like $54,000. Most of it went to soil conservation districts, and this was money that was made directly available to districts. Well, through the years, other things happened. We got laws changed so that the counties wereauthorized - I forget some of that legislation - but the counties were authorized to allocate some county funds to soil conservation districts. Many other things happened. What I'm trying to do is show kind of an evolution of ideas that came along because it didn't happen all at once. Also, some of us looked at the soil conservation enabling law, and there where it talked about soil, it also talked about water. So we said, “Well, why don't we just call them soil and water conservation districts?” And so, that was when the soil and water conservation districts come into view. We didn't really need any changes in legislation. It was already in the legislation, and the soil and water conservation committee eventually became the commission. Coming out of all this then, of course, was the P.L. 566 program. If you'll recall, there was the need for some sort of local groups to sponsor the soil and water conservation planning and watershed program. In about 1953, I believe that was the year that the watershed district office passed, primarily by the support of the Salt-Wahoo people. In 1955, it was before my time, the watershed conservancy district act was passed. There are some major differences between those two bills. One of the differences was the watershed district law. The financing there was going to be based on assessment of benefits and the watershed conservancy district law was going to be an ad valorem tax. It's kind of interesting that the advocates of the watershed district act soon found it almost impossible to work out an assessment based on benefits. It is very difficult to do and, of course, they had some difficulty with their particular program. Well, along with that -- I'm trying to get up to date. Of course, then the allocations to districts in the matter of the state water planning, the concept of the state participating in watershed planning. All these things that came into being, and I forget what year we went forward, and there was the floodplain management act with is a (indiscernible) with some of the severe floods we had. I think LB893 -- I think was the number of that act. That was kind of an interesting thing. When we went forward with that act, it sat in committee. Nobody was going to touch it. But, lo and behold, unfortunately, a tremendous flood hit basically the Papio. Within a week, that bill was voted out of committee and it passed unanimously on the floor and nobody opposed it. You're sitting there and nothing happens, then the flood hits, the bill passed. That's the way the floodplain management bill got passed in Nebraska. Right or wrong, a flood expedited the passage of the act. The National Association of Conservation Districts had a -- what was called a district outlook committee and, of course, some of our local leaders, like Bill Richards, Everett Barr, Milton Fricke, Dempsey McNiel, and others, were quite active in the National Association of Conservation Districts. They had this district outlook committee, and what they were looking at on a national level was how they could strengthen the role of conservation districts, and I was asked to serve on that committee, the district outlook committee of NACD. This was -- probably would have been along, I suppose, sometime I would guess in the late 50s or early 60s. It was becoming more and more obvious to everybody concerned that, if we were already going to move forward aggressively in a broad program of soil and water conservation and water management, that the institutional arrangements we had just weren't fitting the bill. This district outlook committee and some of the thoughts that were coming along at the national level sort of energized us. So, we went to these national meetings and these various meetings, then we would come back and we would discuss (indiscernible). Through all of these programs, the state association had been building its strength
and support and it really got to be a major, major successful lobbying organization.I think it was probably in the 1959 Legislature, I think that was the year, that the association broke the budget. I believe that was the year that we were -- it was either 59 or 61. You can check the dates. But that was the year that we were trying to get some money for watershed planning and, traditionally, to soil conservation districts. We were pretty well assured that, while the money would be in there, but the -- remember we were an extremely small organization. The commission was extremely small. When the budget came out, we were shocked. We were shocked how little was in there. I think they doubled the amount of money for the committee, which they always doubled; of course, when you double a little amount, it really isn't all that much. So, the state association went to bat, and they got people from all over the state to come down to the Legislature, and within a day -- and it was almost unheard of at that time -- the budget bill on the floor of the Legislature was broke by the state association. It was just, like, thrown wide open by the state association. I guess, to indicate the strength that the association was building, so they were beginning to see that this was a force of vocal people that were developing a consensus and a program of where they wanted to go. This is just kind of an evolving, continuing thing. Going back to what I said earlier though, it became obvious that you could not have watershed districts and watershed conservation districts and many other watershed associations and drainage districts. I think, at the time, we had about 500 special purposes districts, and it was obvious that, if we didn't do something, certainly soon, we'd have 1000, maybe 1500 special purpose districts that we refer to as “districtitis”. That was all preparation for work. So, at the district outlook committee and our concerns about the fact that we are getting a proliferation of many special purpose districts and we didn't have the authority in any of these to take on a broad base land and water program, that natural resources districts evolved. It didn't evolve in a matter of a year. It came up at several sessions of the state association. It was agreed by the people in attendance, and they were quite big conferences at that time -- oh, 500 to 700 people in attendance -- that we will study it. We'll take a look at it.
MR. GAUL: Was “districtitis” a term that came up?
MR. FAIRCHILD: That was a term that had some national connotation because of what we going on in California. We certainly picked it up here.
MR. GAUL: So, it was actually a term that was in use at the time?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Yes, it was a term that we would recognize as being a proliferation of districts.
MR. GAUL: That, in fact, when we were getting a new natural resource responsibility, we were just creating a new entity to do it in?
MR. FAIRCHILD: That's right. That's right. Because of some strong leadership, and I can mention names here, but I don't think it serves any particular purpose. There got to be a sort of tug-of-war between the people that were supporting the watershed district approach, primarily here in Lincoln, and the farmers out here who had the water conservancy district approach. They really weren't getting done what they needed to get done. One of the things we were successful in doing was that several of us, including Bob Crosby, myself, and others, Milt Fricke and Harold Sieck and people like that, we sat down on several occasions and we ironed out what it would take in order to satisfy the needs of both. Based on the fact that the state association was lobbying for this. In other words, studying this. All this time, I should point out that members of the state commission, the University, and the elected members were all very much together. They were supporting it. The governor's office had indicated that they had some sympathy with the opposed, and so it was evolving. Actually, it was not fully and enthusiastically received by everybody. As an example, there were some extremely good conservationists down in Nemaha Basin that they felt that the NRD approach was going to mean that they were going to lose total control. They were always very active with the program, soil stewardship and programs like that, and they had a very good soil conservation district -- soil and water conservation district program on a county basis. They were fearful, by combining into a larger district, that they were going to lose control and that they didn't know what was going to happen. So, it was well-intentioned, well-meaning, but there was opposition developed in several places across the state. Of course, I won't ever give the impression it was unanimous.
MR. GAUL: One of the things that I've heard is that southeast corner of the state was also the last to get on board for soil and water conservation districts in the first place. That there had been opposition there years earlier.
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, some. But you know, at the time, though, the NRDs were being thought about, that was probably one of the real active conservation movements and some of the strongest districts were down there. I think there maybe was some slowness to begin with, but certainly they had a very active and aggressive soil and water conservation movement. There was a meeting in North Platte when a very critical vote came up at the North Platte Convention, and it was going to be voted on whether or not the state association, because at that time, basically, most all the framework and the detail of the NRDs had been worked out, and there was going to be a vote; they had the resolution as to whether to continue to go ahead with it. A gentleman from Washington, D.C., by the name of Phil Glick, he was the attorney that wrote the original soil conservation district enabling law, the pilot law, you know, that was used throughout the United States; he had been invited to come to the conference. I'm not saying that he necessarily was the thing that did it, but just before the vote, Phil gave the luncheon address, and he indicated what he thought it was going to take in the future if the local people were going to continue to assume and really have control over their various conservation programs. I'd have to say that, probably, that presentation, along with many local leaders, was what led to the state association adopting the NRD concept at that convention. Those who were opposed to it, and they were opposed to it at that convention, certainly they went home not happy, certainly not personally unhappy, but unhappy with the fact that they felt this was the wrong approach. All of this led up, then, of course, to the legislation.
MR. BARR: Was the vote fairly close?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Before we get into that, I'd just say that the Legislature had their study committees that they had during summertime. We worked very closely with the various subcommittees on this, and Maurice Kremer was chairman of this one study committee, and he'd been there for several years. Maurice was very interested, extremely interested, as were many other members on his committee, in soil and water conservation because he had, I think, the very first irrigation well in Hamilton County. He felt very strongly, he was a deeply religious man, and he felt very strongly about how we should take good care of our resources and agriculture around the state. We had these sessions with the Legislature, and so, at the time, the state association that adopted -- of course, it came through the state commission. The state commission supported it and all the elected members, including those from the University and -- when it went to the subcommittee -- why then, they adopted the bill as introduced. You have to help me out on a date. In 1967, I think it was 1967, the bill was introduced, LB1357, but check that out. It was introduced and, again, at several conventions there tended to be controversy over this. It was introduced and hearings were held. The hearings were standing room only. Of course, there were proponents of the state association then and, again, you can imagine the people were interested, on the order of Warren Patefield, Elmer Juracek, Herman Lang, Milt Fricke, Dempsey McNiel. You go right down the line. And all their people were in here in support of it. There was some other scattering of people I could get, maybe from the southeast. They came in and they testified against it. It was voted out of committee and, because of our close relationship with Clayton Yeutter, who was then the administrative assistant to Governor Tiemann and, of course, having a working relationship with Governor Tiemann, we knew that he also was quite supportive of the legislation. As you can imagine, the pressure began to mount on the Unicameral as to how they were going to vote on this. The state association and state committee and, of course, a few like myself were involved. There had been a lot of consensus building in advance and, because of the very close work we did with the Salt-Wahoo Association and the fact that Milt Fricke was very active in the Papio, we had the Lincoln and Omaha delegations pretty well in hand. And then, with the ones we had out-state, some of these very key districts, it was quite obvious that the votes were available to pass the legislation. But even so, though, there was great pressure put on people like Senator Kremer. “Oh, Maurice, you're doing wrong -- gotta pull up -- pull out.” He come up to the office and he said, “Warren, the pressure's getting too great. I'm going to take the bill out.” I said, “Oh, Maurice, don't do it. I tell you, if you get up through the first reading, we've the votes to pass. I can tell you. We've got the votes. The votes are there.” He said, “I don't know whether I can take it.” He was really sold on it. He said, “I don't know whether I can take it.” You may have heard him make that statement. Then, he'd go back down. He kind of hunkered down. When he got up the first vote, as I recall, I think the first reading, I think we got 27 votes. Of course, you need a majority. We needed 27. We actually needed 25 on the final reading. And the longer it went, the more votes we picked up. I think it finally passed, like, on 34 to 7 or something like that. There were some absentees. But what was kind of interesting was that there was several state senators that come along and they said, “Warren, the program you have outlined is right and we agree with it, but we have some opposition back home, and if you need my vote, you've got it. But if you don't, we're going to vote against you.” So, it was kind of interesting that day when it came up to vote, the green lights come on. Pretty soon, some of the red lights came on, waiting to see what was up there. Their vote was really not needed. So, it passed the Legislature. And the governor. Of course, Nobby Tiemann was very supportive of Clayton Yeutter, and we just assumed that he would sign it and, of course, he did. We really, at that time, we had some great governors, you know, Nobby and Frank Morrison and people like that were so supportive of our programs. They were just really great governors and I'm sure you've had many good governors since then. They're the ones that really come to my mind, and they were so helpful. Well, once we got the law passed, then the problem came of implementing it; and one of the real challenges, though, was getting the district boundaries established. What we had said in the law, that the boundaries would be delineated on common problem areas, it's like a lot of things. How do you define that? I'm sure that a lot of people had different ideas. The staff of the commission sat down and started drawing up maps to try to figure out just how this would be. And out of all this, finally, came that the program and the boundaries for the original districts, and this then was up to the state commission to adopt that map, which they did. I think I have maybe indicated the continuing role of the members of the commission in this. They did not get so actively involved in lobbying the Legislature, but as far as the strength that's behind that, they were there. And so then, the boundaries were accepted and it's kind of a different matter then of going out and, I think, we had a certain time we had to get this thing going. The changeover to financing, and that's something that Hazel Jenkins would know, working on the financial transferring back and forth of funds because some districts now were in maybe two or three different districts and all the money had to go back and forth. There was a considerable amount of staff work that did go into this. I want to go back just for a moment here. Some of the opposition -- and I should tell about some of the support, but it was kind of surprising because where some of the opposition was coming from. Much of the opposition came from state and federal agencies. And I always accepted the opposition from local people because I could understand it. I found it difficult, though, to really understand the opposition from some of the state and federal agencies. I think the real problem they had with it was that they wanted to put the idea of a special purpose district. In other words, the Soil Conservation Service had the soil conservation districts. The Bureau of Reclamation had the reclamation districts. The Corps of Engineers had the drainage districts. The Conservation and Survey Division, they had the groundwater districts, and you can keep going. The Farmers Home Administration, they had the water supply districts. The Assistant A.D. of the Farmers Home Administration, he called up and he says, “Warren, we don't want to be included in that NRD legislation. We like just what we got.” I was a little more brash in those days than I think I am today and I said, “Well, Joe [Haggerty], that's tough, but you're going to be in it.” I wouldn't probably have said it quite that way, but I said it just about that way. I said, “That's tough. Your program's going to be in it. That's all there is to it.” Well, I think it's probably the best thing that ever happened to the rural water supply program because they really didn't have much of a program before. There was a feeling, and this manifested itself really, again, in some of the agency personnel. I think in the case of a few SCS personnel, it also kind of generated back to the soil conservation districts and that feeling pretty much came on up through the state office and other offices, too. Through all of it though, none of it was ever personal. I think there were just some real strong feelings that this was not the appropriate way to go. So, anyone who sees the NRDs today and feels there was a controversy, there really was considerable controversy.
I doubt if, in that session of the Legislature, no bill was better known than LB1357. In fact, the day it passed, the headlines, “LB1357 Enacted”. That was exactly what it was. People in the state knew what that was. It was headlines.
MR. BARR: One of the few that I remember!
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, 1-3-5-7. Kind of easy, isn't it? 1-3-5-7. One other interesting piece about the opposition was that Glen Kruescher, who was farm editor of the Lincoln Star, he became very closely affiliated with some of the people in the southeast, and he felt that they were doing a fine job down there with the soil stewardship and soil conservation programs, which they really were. So, he became a very -- I'd call him strident opponent, and his articles in the paper, extremely strident. It really got into politics. It got into the governor's race that year, and the eventual winner, Governor Exon, of course, that was one of the issue he ran against Nobby Tiemann on. It was that Tiemann was responsible for the income tax. A lot of people did not like the fact of more taxes. That probably was the key thing. But also, another thing, though, that Exon, because Glen Kruescher to to him, was that Exon was opposed, supposedly opposed the NRD. This was an election issue. And it was about that time that I left the state. There's no other reason other than it was a good professional opportunity for me, and I did go back to Washington. That's the reason. There were a couple of other things in the back of my mind. There was a feeling among some of the opponents that, if Fairchild would just leave, this whole thing would just crumble and go away. I knew that wasn't a fact. There was just too strong a local support, the staff, and everything. It just wasn't going to go away. The history will show that, really, it went extremely well and has continued to go extremely well, although there are still problems ahead. Also, another fact was that I was very interested in going back to Washington, become an assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, because I wanted to see the O'Neill and the North Loup projects get authorized and we got them authorized. That wasn't easy either. There's a story behind that. But we got them authorized. There were several reasons, but the main reason I went back was because of the fact it was a professional opportunity. It also, I think, served the fact -- even though -- I'm not saying this to be self-serving. But I think the lightning rod had left. Then, they had to face the fact that, well, it is a heavily supported operation here. It went forward, and the commission staff and the commission members, the local leaders have brought it to where it is today. What it showed was -- what I'm trying to indicate here, the same way when you talk about any program -- I don't believe that you just go in and, in a matter of one legislative turn, and you're going to knock down the doors and say, “Well, this is what we're going to do.” You got to build consensus. You got to build your support. Once you got your support, then you can get these things done in the Legislature. Obviously, the Legislature, most all members, I think all members are extremely interested in soil and water conservation. They want to do the right thing, but they also want to do the thing that they think their constituents back home want. They could care less what an agency head thinks. If that's not supported back home, it's not going to go very far. I think that's true about this program. It was an evolutionary program that I say that was in the building process that started before me. That started back about Condra, with him nourishing these districts to start out with, and then the districts kind of got on their feet and they said, “Now wait a minute. Dad, we want to leave the farm and be on our own for a while.” So then, they got on their farm and on their own. It's been a long and continuing process. The legislation that came through before NRDs was always so well-supported by the Legislature. The appropriation process, of course -- when I came to the Legislature for the state commission in 1957, I think our appropriation was $27,000 a year. The state commission was used as a terrible example or a good example, however you want to do it, of bureaucratic bull. We were increasing each biennium. We were increasing our appropriation by three or four hundred percent. The reason was the appropriation started out so low. The Legislature was very good, behind us. There was this man from Hastings, a big, tall man, [Senator] Dick Marvel. He certainly was a difficult man to appear before, but if you presented your case, he would try to stay it out with you. You might not get everything that you thought you should, but he'd give you a reasoned attention and you'd do quite well. I always felt that he treated us well and I'm sure that many agencies at that time thought he was an extremely difficult person to work with. My feeling was that, well, he had in mind maintaining a certain budget within certain areas, and this was one area that he would see some protest. There were many other senators, you know, that obviously did work with us. The history after that, people like Dayle Williamson and Hazel Jenkins and Gayle Starr, will know much better than I do. That's the evolution you need.
MR. BARR: Well, the concept of soil and water conservation districts that picked up (indiscernible) and I think every district in the nation is now a soil and water conservation district. It started here.
MR. GAUL: Add the name “and water”. So adding “and water” --
MR. BARR: I didn't realize that --
MR. FAIRCHILD: That was a Nebraska issue that did go nationwide. So, that was something we started here and it's very simple and I think about every state has done that. I would say that the program always intrigued other states. I think they felt, in a way, that maybe the people from Nebraska were a little bit brash going forward with this. Why don't you just settle back here? Keep your little districts here and just maintain the way they are. Then the question came up to choose the national association. It became sort of a sensitive issue because we had fewer districts. There were some interests, but the general feeling among the people I've visited with is that, oh, we'd like to do it, but we don't think we can get it done. They don't think they can get it done for several reasons. One reason is, I don't think they feel they have the strength and leadership at this point in time to do this. The second thing is, they see a great difficulty in their legislatures and opposition from other vested interest groups. They didn't have strong people at the local level and the state level and the legislature and the governor's office to really pull together a consensus to do that. Now, it's my understanding, because of some of the Clean Water Acts and things like that, that, again, there is some thought of encouragement of some of this in other states. I know my state of Virginia I lived in, they have made some contacts and we're weeding them down and see if we can get something going there. It's going to be extremely hard to get this going in many states.
MR. BARR: Congressman Stenholm showed an interest at the hearing in -- that was the one that he wanted to ask more questions about.
MR. FAIRCHILD: I'm hopeful that many other states will do it, but if they don't -- well, I'm hopeful for this reason, I think that, if every state had a similar organization, I think it'd be easier for the national -- the federal legislators at the Federal level to come up with laws that would more fit NRDs. But Nebraska's the only ones and they've got to do something for all the other states and we have to kind of fit our way within it. From that standpoint, it's unfortunate from our standpoint that they haven't done it. But having said that, notwithstanding that we're so far ahead and able to do so much that, certainly, there is no reason why we should go back to the other way. So, there's interest; but whether it's going to happen or not? I think it's going to have to take some initiative. There is, though, at the national level on the part of some organizations, a real concern about strength in state and local units of government. Because they have been so successful in recent times in lobbying a group together in Washington and going down and having the pressure felt in Washington and the slam on these requirements on state and local units of government that they see that a strong system of local units could be difficult for them to combat. When you're successful and just a Washington lobbying organization, why would you want to take the risk of having some local group? In fact, I've heard them say that, “Oh, my goodness, these local units are just nothing but obstructionists. We've just got to find some way of getting around them.” I think it's unfortunate. It's got to certainly be a partnership between local, state, and federal. There is that also.
MR. BARR: Yesterday, I think you alluded a little bit to institutional organizations in other countries that you've run into. Is there any either similarities to this or anything in the institutions in other countries that either parallel or provide a good example?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, based on experience in Nebraska, we did use the experience in getting the provinces in Pakistan and water user associations and they adopted ordinances which would be the same as our legislation, state bills. What we told the country and the province was that, if we're going to finance water management projects on your irrigation system, that you're going to have some sort of a local sponsoring organization to make sure the farmers are involved and the farmers will be responsible for operating and maintaining these once they're in place. Because the university had prepared a model law for water use associations and basically we took that law, which was prepared by the Colorado state association, and gave that to four provinces as part of the requirement for them to come and get assistance from the World Bank for a loan. They enacted that model ordinance with some variation, as you would anticipate. Once that was in place, then each of these what they call water courses, before they'd get help in, say, lining their ditches and turn outs and things like that, then the farmers had to organize together a water user association for those water courses. They have about some of the same authorities as the natural resources districts. Some of the very same authorities. Now, I wouldn't want to equate them as being the same size, the same operation. They're much smaller, but I'd say they are mini NRDs is what they are. It's worked out quite well. The interesting thing is to see that, historically, the word of the state engineer for the irrigation department was law. In other words, if there was any sort of a conflict, and the irrigation department is one that decided the allocations and deliveries, and if there's any sort of conflict, why, it would come up to the state head and he'd make a decision. The big decision, of course, is right within the same body that was the judge and jury all there right together. This had operated this way for a century or two and, all at once here, you get these farmers organized and they start asking questions. “Well, why is it that our water course here is not getting as much water as that water course over there?” Well, the reason for it is, off the record, is that there had been some behind-the-scene payments and things like that. And so, as a consequence, you start seeing some improvement in equity. Equity and the timing of delivery is improved just by the farmers' participation. Not only in the improvements, but also in the question, “Hey here, what's going on?” They may be illiterate, many of them, but they're intelligent. They could see these things. There was one example where we used the leverage of the bank in order to cause institutional change to come into being. And there are other ways in which the bank has done this. We did use it and it's based a lot on my experience here in Nebraska.
MR. GAUL: So, looking at NRD laws and the organizations in the last 20, 25 years, now, any reflections on how they've operated in terms of how they might have been expected to?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, I'm probably a poor one to analyze because of my experience with these. But my observation from afar would be they probably have evolved and have developed overall generally as fast or faster than I would have imagined. That's pretty much to the credit of the NRD people and to the state officials involved. Now, could they have gone faster and done more? Well, obviously, you can always go faster and do more, and they probably should have. They're going to have to in the future. There's no getting around that. But, as I said there today, I think that we've got to recognize that there is a diversity in what should be the programs of the NRDs, and I think it's important that each NRD develop its own operational plan and it be very substantial and it show a positive proactive program for the future. One thing that I would be concerned about -- there are probably many things to be concerned about, but now that the framework has been developed for these institutions, I hear a kind of disgust at the (indiscernible) say “Well, maybe we need a new authority on the Platte. Maybe we need a new institution over here.” A small state like Nebraska doesn't need any more institutions. It really don't. Maybe what you need to do is to consolidate a few institutions yet. You may need to do that, but I think it'd be terrible if there was a regression back into getting more institutions. More different kinds of institutions. I think that would be terrible. What we should be thinking is how do we make the ones we got today -- the agencies and the University, the agencies and state government, the NRDs -- how do we make them more effective? I think that's really what we should be really striving to do, rather than thinking about others.
MR. BARR: Has the movement to one person, one vote changed significantly from the original idea? Is that any difference?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Go back and I'll answer your question. Again, this is a first for Nebraska. This is changed in the soil conservation district enabling law and we're the first one to do it in Nebraska, was that we went and we included, by legislation, urban areas. Originally, urban areas were not included in soil conservation district law. So the consequence, they did not have representation because representation was all from rural areas. Well, as things were evolving, it became obvious that the program being carried out here had significance on the urban areas also. So, when the urban areas were voted in, then you had to give representation to the urban areas. At that time, and you could probably argue the concept now, but we were quite careful that time to make sure there's still, even in the areas, like, around Lancaster County, that the farms would still have majority vote. Incidentally, that also started in Nebraska. That was a move that was picked up and carried nationwide, was including urban areas and putting that vote on the ballot box. That was another first to come out of here. But in answer to your question, yes, it appears that there has been significant change. I observed it in the type of individual that's on the NRD board. To me, I would say that, overall, it's (sic) probably have (sic) to be good. To some farmers and rural interests, they might consider this is as (sic) unfortunate. They've lost some of their control. I think that this is something that you would have to analyze for yourself. It has changed the nature of the board. For instance, as I understand it, in the matter of the president of the national association from out here in McCook [Jerry Vap], well, 20 years ago, that would never happen. I think that's great. I think that's great. Now that I've said that, I think it's extremely important that the agriculture orientation of these districts never be completely out of whack. Because, after all, Nebraska is an agricultural state. But people in the urban areas have got to have a voice if they're going to be financing it. They've got to have a voice. And so, one man, one vote, that's -- I've been around the world many times and I don't know a better approach. Everybody's got to vote.
MS. HERPEL: Why is there certain ways enabling legislation in Nebraska -- the way I understood it (indiscernible).
MR. FAIRCHILD: Idealistically, that would be probably a good way to think about it, but the model law that came out that Nebraska modeled their legislation of 1937 after actually came out from USDA. And it came out from Bill Glick. He was the one who drafted that legislation to take care of the requirements of the Soil Conservation Service moving and supplying and assistance to farmers. There's enabling legislation. The farmers in each county had to, or a combination of counties, had to organize their soil conservation districts. Yes, that law could've gone further, but it did not have to go further to meet the intent of the requirement of the Soil Conservation Service or USDA at that time. Now, over a period of time, there was an evolution through the National Association of Conservation Districts and others that that law was not adequate really to make it possible for local districts to fully assume their leadership role. That was the reason for the district outlook committee and that was what was leading to the evolution of thinking on the part of the Soil Conservation District supervisor in Nebraska. “Hey, we don't have the authority, we don't have the wherewithal to do what really we should be doing.” At that time -- and I'm not downplaying what they were doing. Basically, what they were doing at that time was carrying out a local program that sort of endorsed what the Soil Conservation Service was able to provide for them. So, many people looked upon this as sort of being a passive group that really their substance was not all that important. Although they did do some fine things. Please understand. It was just that feeling that, well, we don't have the wherewithal, we don't have the authorities to really participate so we can really make decisions as to where we want to go with these things. That was what led to the NRDs.
MS. HERPEL: At that point in 1937, all the states were required to have and pass enabling legislation. I guess, from that, is there a starting point for other states to kind of take that approach?
MR. FAIRCHILD: They all took the same model law --
MS. HERPEL: It seems like they should have all come to the realization that Nebraska did, but somewhere along the way, they didn't.
MR. FAIRCHILD: I think you got to give full credit to a lot of leadership in the state. Not only that is something needed, but willingness to spend the effort to see that it's done. Others could say that, “Oh, yes, we need the power of taxation. Oh, yes, we need more money. Oh, yes, we need this. We need that.” But then, they got to these meetings and they would have a nice meal and they would go home and nothing would happen. Well, that didn't happen in Nebraska. You have these leaders who would say, “Wait a minute now. Some things have to happen here. We can't be satisfied with what we have because it just won't do it. It just won't cut the mustard.”
MR. BARR: Would you care to mention a few of the people?
MR. FAIRCHILD: The most aggressive person, of course, was Mr. Bill Richards who just recently passed away. But then, when you got into the NRD program, the people who were actively involved in that were Milt Fricke, Warren Patefield, Dempsey McNeil, Emmet Lee, Herman Link, Wayne Warner, Harold Sieck, there was Harold Kopf. There was a good many people that immediately come to my mind. And, of course, then in the Papio. There were people in the Papio, including the county board, and here in the Salt-Wahoo, there was people like Bob Crosby and Hal Schroeder, who was the director of the Salt Valley-Wahoo. So there was many people that did come forward at that time.
MR. BARR: Was there any support in southeast Nebraska?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Depends on what you mean by southeast Nebraska. I can say that Gage County, strong support. Oh, Chet Ellis. I should have mentioned Chet Ellis and Jefferson County, Saline County, Lancaster County. But, basically, Richardson, Otoe, and Nemaha. Pawnee County was for us.
MR. BARR: Was there any particular individuals that stood out in opposition with that area or any area?
MR. FAIRCHILD: There was Paul Antes. Nice guy. Please understand. I wouldn't want anyone to think other than the best of these people. Paul was such a fine person, but he just felt it was not right. There were some others that don't come to my mind right now. [Vernon Niebur, Franklin Gee, and Ernest Bredemier.]
MR. BARR: Was that a strong part of the primary in the governor's race that year between Senator Burbach and Governor Exon?
MR. FAIRCHILD: It may have been. That may have hurt Burbach because he supported the NRDs. It may have been. I'm not aware of that. I probably was aware at that time, but Senator Burbach was a supporter. He was a fine man, but there may have been other things also. I don't know what. It was quite interesting the Governor Exon was opposed to it. Of course, then later on, he changed. Course, we all know that story.
MS. HERPEL: I'm really interested in the perception of creating the hydrologic boundaries and not really concentrating so much on the county lines or the existing subdivisions so much as watershed boundaries and hydrologic boundaries, and if that -- at that time, was that something that really was really hard for people to accept, to envision themselves cooperating with people in the same watershed?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Once the bill was enacted, there was certainly a lot of input and involvement on the part of locals on the boundaries of the districts. I would say that was not a real problem to overcome. You look at the maps. We basically come up with -- we didn't follow exactly the hydrologic boundaries. We'd use legal descriptions so it's possible to file for taxation purposes, for voting, and things like that. I think what maybe was unique about this and, over time, maybe should be looked at again, that is where the common boundaries that were delineated at that time were, they (sic) the right ones. Basically, in the eastern part of the state, they are on hydrologic in the eastern and southern part of the state. But you get up and come into the Tri-County area and some of those areas we basically did it there on the basis of groundwater and, very frankly, the Tri-County project. We were thinking at one time maybe Tri-County might go on out and even take in Adams County, which it's really authorized to do. Up in the Sandhills, what better way to do it than just doesn't make any difference. Might as well do it on county boundaries up there. It just seems like it just kind of just fell into place. But that doesn't mean that they are immutable or anything like that. I would think that some time, as transportation and communication improved, that there could be some additional consolidation, like we have an upper and lower unit that maybe they'd go together into one unit. Whether that will happen and when it should happen, that's a decision for, certainly, the local people and our state officials to work out. I would think that might come sometime.
MR. GAUL: Missouri Tribs was the first example of that happening, and that was partially on the money grounds. I have one question related to the money grounds. One of the things I've heard is that in other states if you look at just what soil and water conservation districts spend compared to what we spend on natural resource districts here, it's quite a bit of difference. We're spending a lot more, but obviously those other states maybe still have a touch of “districtitis”. Would you say that Nebraska, because of natural resources districts, is spending more on getting resource problems solved or are we spending less or do you have any feel for that?
MR. FAIRCHILD: Certainly we're investing more, but hopefully we're accomplishing considerably more. I don't think there's any question but more's being invested in Nebraska. That was the intent. We needed some funds for investment. Nobody can argue what more money is being expended by these districts. Now, they're doing things that it's impossible, it's inconceivable, for other states to do. But things that need to be done. The homeless person, he doesn't need to spend much money, but I'm not sure that the way we want to live. We all think we got to have a house, so we spend on these things. I don't think that's a valid criticism of NRDs unless they're squandering money. Now, if they're squandering money, of course, then somebody should take them to task, but I haven't heard that said about them. If anything, they're probably, I guess, pretty prudent with their expenditures. I would wonder, knowing how conservative many of them are, maybe they should be encouraged to make additional investments, particularly in developing their programs, their plans about where they want to go with their district in the future.
MS. HERPEL: In connection with my question earlier about the boundaries, I guess, a greater question is, you know, instead of having smaller counties and what not, do people think of themselves as, “I live in this NRD, and I live in this environment”? If they could think of it as more as an environmental district, instead of just a county area, would that help promote NRDs and natural resource issues and environmental issues and, also, a sense of well-being? It's a sense of being a Nebraskan and closer to the environment.
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, I really am visiting, but that's true. My view would be yes. Yes. It's both those. Certainly, I'm born and raised on a farm on the banks of the Little Blue River. The people down there, of course they are in the Little Blue NRD and they feel very much tied to all drainage area of the Blue. I think that is, for the purpose of natural resource management, I think that is good. Also, I think there is a certain camaraderie at the state level because we all know our state has this. We just did something that's much better than other states. I think there is a pride; I sense a pride. We've done this, and now you got to go beyond pride. You really got to show that you can do it. “I'm a NRD director. We're doing things out here. Well, that's good. Now, let's make sure we're really getting things done.” I think there is that.
MR. BARR: Do you think the fact that we have a Unicameral and public power and some other different things in the state was helpful?
MR. FAIRCHILD: The Unicameral was very helpful. The very fact that we had a unicameral system was a key element. Yes. We knew that, to be very candid with you, 25 votes and we could pass the act. Because through the readings we knew we had, this sounds really boisterous, I don't mean to sound that way, but we knew we had more than 25 votes. We knew that.
(Changed to Side B of Tape.)
I'm sorry if I can't (indiscernible) who was there and who voted. There were many more than Maurice Kremer that were very staunch and stalwart supporters.
MR. GAUL: Any particular anecdotes or personal experiences that stick out in this period of developing this idea? First, the act and then to the actual districts and boundaries and everything that --
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, I don't think anything comes particularly to mind right now. Certainly, we had many interesting experiences as relates to, like, when we broke the budget. Those were kind of traumatic affairs because, at the time, the University was having difficulty with their budget and there was an editorial in the Lincoln Journal saying that the University Board of Regents should pattern their lobbying efforts after the state association. They would probably do a better job with their budget. That was an editorial because that would give you some indication as to the strength of the association at that time. It really was. It was an organization that you didn't want to mess around with because they were very well-meaning people, but they basically knew what they wanted done and they just went after it. That's all there was to it.
MR. BARR: You mentioned Mel Steen today in summation. Was he a factor in this at all or any of the other agencies? State agencies? Resource agencies?
MR. FAIRCHILD: I would say that the participation and cooperation of people in the Game Commission at that time was extremely close. Mel Steen and Willard Barbie. At that time, we were very short of water facilities, particularly here in the eastern part of the state. They thought the organizations, and they saw such organizations and activities as the Salt-Wahoo and the Papio and the P.L. 566, as an instrument to get some water for water-based recreation. Mel went and he got special appropriation from the Legislature in order to get facilities around these lakes. Yes, the cooperation and involvement of the State Game Commission at that time was 100 percent. I don't know but maybe it continued that way, but Mel and Willard Barbie and others were extremely supportive of the O'Neill project. At the time I left Nebraska, there wasn't one particle of opposition to the project. It just came as a shock how things sort of come unraveled at the seams. And maybe the story was told, but it just seemed like to me the story of the O'Neill project just never was told. It didn't get out to people in the press bcause it just wasn't for irrigating land up around Ainsworth and O'Neill. It would do that, but that water that just now flows out at the Missouri River and it's lost to the state. It's just as well, you know, when you have lake recreation, you can have some releases for fisheries and in-stream uses and rafting down below. I just can't fathom -- one of the leading politicians, and he's been very successful, made a statement that, I guess, because there isn't a flood control function, and I thought, “Oh, my God.” At least be reasonable if we oppose this and we really have a reason for doing it. It should not be something as stupid as it doesn't have flood control in it. It really was totally asinine.
MR. GAUL: I got a kick because I had written down a question to ask you when you got here and I was going to say, “What was your most rewarding job experience and what was you biggest disappointment?”
MR. FAIRCHILD: They really are and, of course, I've been very fortunate. Professionally, I've had a lot of experiences and so life has treated me well. But my experiences in Nebraska are certainly one of the high points and I'm forever grateful to the people of this state. They helped me a lot. We all make a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes here. Gosh, I look at some of those early conservation practices I laid out in Gage County. Some of them failed, you know. I didn't know that much. You find what you need and you do better and better. Go down an alley and see those terraces and those structures that are still working and, therefore, adding to them. It makes you feel pretty good. I makes you feel pretty good.
MR. BARR: One more. I was going to quit. With all the development that happened in southeast Nebraska, what did you run into in the northeast? You don't see that much. Is it because of the deep soils?
MR. FAIRCHILD: The difference is basically soil. In southeast Nebraska, you have a glacial developed soil. It had to originally -- well, anywhere from four to maybe 16, 18 inches of topsoil on very rolling land. Right under that was this glacial till that was rocky and heavy clay. When you lost that topsoil, it's very difficult -- well, you can't hardly till it. It's almost impossible to till and it's very difficult to even get grasses to start back in there. So, the farmers knew that, if they didn't take care of that little bit of topsoil, then they really had a problem. It was bad. Of course, up on the crown of the hills was the windblown soil, the loess. Those also were heavy. Of course, you go up in northeast Nebraska so you have deeper soils and the farmers can erode. You get back in and put in fertilizer and they could farm it again year after year after year. It was always easier to get a conservation program going in southeast and south central Nebraska and in northeast and north central Kansas. You won't find an area anywhere in the United States with more conservation than that area down there and an awful lot of it has to do with the soil. I was fortunate that I worked in that area and that made it easy. In 1956 in Gage County when I was working as a conservationist, if we would have got all the work done and as far as the books worked up, we would have actually constructed over a thousand miles of terraces that one year in Gage County. Things were really booming then. It was a good experience.
MR. GAUL: This has really been interesting.
MR. BARR: I appreciate you doing that. I want to close on this.
MR. GAUL: I should have asked before I turned on the tape recorder, but I was afraid we'd miss something and we didn't want that.
MR. FAIRCHILD: I would hope -- I want to make it very clear. Things come out that I'm being critical to some individuals. I want to put it in context that it was not in any way ever personal -- personal disagreement. It was strictly a professional disagreement and one that everybody had in their own mind a just cause. But I don't want to overemphasize the disagreement because in the sum of our district supervisors I would guess at no time was the opposition any more than probably 15 percent to 20 percent of the supervisors. But it was significant and they had to be certainly reckoned with. But it wasn't, like, 49 to 51 percent.
MR. BARR: Out of my curiosity, that state association meeting was relatively --
MR. FAIRCHILD: And in the watersheds, again, it was pretty dominantly in support.
MR. GAUL: You said there wasn't really any point where you were kind of discouraged, where you wondered if you were going to get this thing through or not?
MR. FAIRCHILD: The only despairing thing was whether or not, eventually, whether or not we had the support of the Legislature. But soon, it became obvious we had that, too. I don't think we ever felt that we couldn't get it accomplished. Of course, there was some unfortunate news coverage that wasn't as good as it might have been. That kind of ran off our backs. By and large, the Lincoln Journal, World Herald, and people like that were very objective at that time. And the Nebraska Farmer. So, we certainly had very good coverage. I thought very objective coverage for the most part. Just except for the one case. And, again, I think he felt very strongly that we were wrong. I hope that the history has proven that we were not.
MR. BARR: I remember your time here very much and have heard a lot of things.
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, my memory is not as good as it should be, so you have to check some of these dates out.
MR. BARR: Sure. Sure.
MR. FAIRCHILD: The point I was trying to make was the current evolution and people would think and that's the reason why I said yesterday now, like McKay said, that problem with Kansas. You got to face up to that because we have a contract there. But on these others, I tell you, these things have been going on for a long time and we've taken the time to work it out. Make sure we have the support of people in a very proactive and significant way. I don't think we should ever get to the place where we feel that we're being pushed impetuously into taking actions that we really don't know for sure what we're doing. That's what is happening in a lot of this back in Washington at the present time. I think there are certain feelings on the part of certain groups that we -- we've got the momentum. We have the administration behind us and now is the time to go. And here we are, we're talking about doing away with the P.L. 566 watershed program at the very time that the EPA wants to get into watershed programs. What they want to do, I don't have any idea. Don't have any idea what their program would be. They have the air. They are the white hats right now.
MR. BARR: But they may overplay that hand --
MR. FAIRCHILD: Well, could be --
(Whereupon, on March 16, 1994, the interview was concluded.)
- - -