Westmoreland Conservation District marks 70th anniversary
In 1949, a group formed with the idea of working with conservation-minded organizations, companies and residents to protect Westmoreland County’s abundant natural resources.
Seventy years later, the Westmoreland Conservation District and its partners have had a hand in improving the water quality in hundreds of miles of streams, returning forests and woodlands across the county to a more healthy, productive state, and reviewing more than 9,500 erosion and sediment-control plans for construction projects.
“Our goal is to help people use resources wisely,” said Greg Phillips, who, as district manager and CEO, has been guiding the conservation district for a little more than half of the organization’s existence.
In the late 1940s, when the district was founded, farming was the major occupation in the county and farmers were looking for ways to stop their valuable soil from eroding into nearby streams. One of the earliest conservation practices the district promoted was plowing in line with the contour of the land — a novel idea at the time that is now a well-accepted farming practice.
Today, district staff members spend much of their time working one-on-one with engineers, earth-movers, farmers, loggers, and others whose profession brings them in contact with natural resources.
“We help them get their work done in a way that doesn’t adversely impact the soil, water, and other natural resources,” Phillips said. “As we’ve learned from past coal-mining and agricultural practices, it’s far better to prevent problems like water pollution before they happen, rather than to have to clean them up afterward.”
The district’s agricultural technician continues to help farmers keep up with the latest proven conservation practices, such as preparing fields for planting without any tilling at all, which saves time and fuel, and creates even less erosion than contour farming.
District staff also regularly hosts public programs on “green” best-management practices, including managing storm water, creating rain gardens and swales and even making “green” roofs, one of which has been installed on the GreenForge building next door to the district’s headquarters.
The Westmoreland Conservation District was the first district in Pennsylvania to hire a hydraulic engineer and implement a stormwater-management program in 1988.
“We began by simply educating people on the idea of actively doing something to manage rain and melting ice and snow,” Phillips said. “Over the years, best practices in this field have evolved from simply retaining storm water – the ponds with chain link fences around them that you probably have seen near development sites – to encouraging infiltration.”
And the organization’s employees live their mission every day just by going into the office, a “green” building at 218 Donohoe Road in Hempfield. It is an 1880s barn that was once part of a working farm. The district moved the barn from Penn Township to the current location and repurposed it, adding green materials and practices, including geothermal heat and cooling, reclaimed wood, iron oxide, structural insulated panels, zoned radiant floor heat, low-E glass and water-saving toilets.
The public is invited to stop by the barn during regular business hours (8 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m., Monday through Friday) to see its various conservation features.
It also includes a timeline of Westmoreland County conservation beginning at the district’s founding in 1949.
For more, see WCDPA.com.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .