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You’re probably aware that the Nov. 6 election could decide everything from who controls the U.S. Congress to whose behind will next land in the Deltona mayor’s chair, but you probably haven’t given much thought to the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District.

Maybe you didn’t know it was a thing altogether.

But this obscure board — one of 58 of its kind in Florida — will have three races on the ballot, and eight people are vying for the volunteer positions.

But what does the Soil and Water Conservation District do?

Consisting of five “supervisors,” the agency’s mission is to oversee the spending of state and federal money available for soil and water conservation, and to promote conservation activities.

In theory, anyway. In practice, the District — which does not have the power to collect taxes — hasn’t received funding from Volusia County since October 2007.

At the time, county officials figured the various county departments could accomplish the District’s job better.

The county used to contribute about $150,000 each year, allowing the District to have an office, a manager, a secretary and a part-time agriculturist.

Now, the board’s main source of revenue is its annual tree sale.

The District also acts as an advocacy organization of sorts, promoting low-impact development, seeking ways to solve water-quality issues, and educating county residents about invasive species, community gardens and more.

The board also helps farmers and growers across the county apply for certain federal grants relating to conservation.

The group works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service, with which it shares an office.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts date back to the Great Depression era.

In the mid-1930s, severe drought and poor farming methods caused dust storms that affected an estimated 100 million acres of cropland in the Great Plains region.

The U.S. Congress declared soil and water conservation a national priority in 1935.

The Florida Legislature followed suit in 1937, passing a law enabling the formation of conservation districts.

The districts “serve as a liaison between federal government and local landowners in order to address local conservation needs,” according to the Association of Florida Conservation Districts.

The Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District covers the entire county, so all registered voters countywide may vote in these races.


In many election years, candidates running for the Soil and Water Conservation District don’t attract challengers. When they do, it’s unusual that campaigns cost more than a few hundred dollars, if that. 

So, why does William Bliss have $44,000 in his campaign account?

“I’ll be perfectly honest, I wanted to send a message out to anyone running for the seat, to be careful, because I’m very, very serious,” he said.

Bliss himself is the primary financier of his campaign. $43,500 of his war chest is in the form of loans from himself to his campaign account, and he made a $29.95 in-kind donation to his campaign in the form of a domain name for his website.

The next largest donation to his campaign — made by someone other than Bliss — is $100.

His opponent in the Seat 1 race, Derrick Orberg, doesn’t have anything in his campaign account. 

In the Seat 3 race, where incumbent Beth James is facing off against Wesley Wayne Wilson Jr. and Christine Wilt, only Wilt’s campaign has raised any funds — $200.

In the Seat 5 contest, where incumbent David Schaefer is being challenged by John Barfield and Andy Kelly, only Barfield’s campaign account shows a balance, of $210, according to Volusia County Department of Elections records. 

— Anthony DeFeo

Read more about the candidates below.

Soil & Water Conservation District, Seat 1


Q: Why are you running?

A: The short answer is Katie Tripp asked me to run to take her position. She’s, of course, a well-known environmentalist and manatee expert who is running for state House.

It’s funny, I wasn’t really considering running for any office. My background is science and not politics.

One of my interests has been [exploring] what areas are we putting our civilization at risk by allowing our industry to grow without any oversight. I began wondering if Volusia County or maybe Florida overall should have a sustainability council.

When I started studying Florida Statutes [chapter] 582, I said, “Oh my God, this is a sustainability council.”  I thought, if we already have something in place, all we need to do is get it back on track.

Q: What do you want the Soil and Water board to do?

A: Its purpose is just so incredibly simple. It’s supposed to be a branch of government that is supposed to be completely trustworthy — independent of the other branches of government, independent of the media, independent of corporations — and it’s just supposed to connect citizens to the best science.


Q: Why are you running?  

A: I am a Florida native, a resident of Volusia County since 1982. I am the eldest grandson on my father’s side and oldest sibling of my brothers and sisters.  There is an expectation of leadership, given those two parameters.

My real dive down the rabbit hole started in 2008 with the loss of employment that many experienced.  I was looking for something — construction was dead, which was a family business, so I couldn’t fall back on that.

So, I started to learn gardening, and I came across permaculture, which is basically a toolbox of natural practices that uses the model of Mother Nature and emphasizes several aspects to increase nature’s systems. It’s a regenerative way of working with the land, rather than merely sustaining what exists.

I believe with some of these tools and practices, we can work a home-sized system up to a commercial system that can benefit all residents.  Of special interest are “agrihoods.” To wrap this up, my family and their health is why I am interested in serving the residents of Volusia County.

Q: What do you want the Soil and Water board to do?

A: Education is primary. To do this, the District needs financial resources, as it is not funded by any entity other than our volunteerism to sell native trees and shrubs.  This effort earns the District approximately $2,000 a year, from which one very-part-time administrative assistant is paid to keep records for the organization.

First, we have to create a permanent funding source where the District can stand on its own two feet.  There is a model in South Florida to study its feasibility here in Volusia County of taking waste streams and turning that into a healthy, viable compost product for resident use.  This is one way that should provide a constant stream of resources.

Another aspect would be maintaining and distributing grants applied for Volusia County projects. This is a bonus stream, and can be used to further educate Volusia residents and provide support for projects not able to receive grants.

We have a great deal of work to do. There are so many areas in which we can support education, create community gardens and support our local municipalities in their efforts. We encourage people to visit a meeting and become involved.

Soil & Water Conservation District, Seat 3


Q: Why are you running?

A: Because I love natural resources, and parks, and clear water. I went to meetings and saw what [the SWCD] accomplished, and it sparked me inside — this is something from the heart. We are the guys from the Earth, and the sea. I’m a turtle-loving beach person.

That’s what I’m all about. It’s a great organization, and I am very happy to be involved with them. We have a lot of things on the burners.

Q: What do you want the Soil and Water board to do?

A: I’ve been a member for four years, and this is the first time [I’m in an election] with a challenger. I’m not racing on taxation, or the normal things that people race against each other for. We’re basically an agency of protection — a protector of farmers and growers.
We are trying to preserve every resource we have. We educate the public so we can protect the environment. We help fund community gardens, and help educate others on irrigation, for example. There’s many various things that happen.

We’re doing good work, and we hope to continue to do good work by getting different people to come into our meetings who have a need for us.


Q: Why are you running?

A: I just wanted to give back to community and get involved. I am unhappy with the way things have been going.

When I got my political science degree at the University of Central Florida, I took classes on environmental law and environmental politics. So, I am familiar with how government frustrates environmental efforts.

I think there needs to be more coalition-building with volunteer organizations, like Sierra Club, or the Marine Discovery Center. There should be more voluntary solutions [than] government [ones].

I also want to raise awareness on what the Soil and Water Conservation District does.

Q: What do you want the Soil and Water board to do?

A: Soil and Water is an environmental advocacy board that acts as a liaison between citizenry, environmental organizations, and the County Council. It keeps tabs on everything, and makes suggestions on what it finds.

There could be more thought going into it. It’s an unpaid position and an unfunded office, as well. The county is so broke, Soil and Water is defunct.

I’d like to see to it that it gets funds. One way to do that is working with environmental organizations.

I am also worried Soil and Water could propose things to the county that will infringe on individual property rights. I want to make sure that it doesn’t, and that it works with individuals and not against them by standing up for individual property rights.

A public commons should be a public commons — it shouldn’t be restricted. It’s the only ethical thing to do.

While some environmental organizations would disagree, we would agree on some things. We could work with the Marine Discovery Center on oyster bed restoration in Indian River, for example.


Q: Why are you running?

A: I’m running because I feel compelled to do something to protect the water, air, soil of this planet because, these are the source and sustenance of life itself.

Q: What to do you want the Soil and Water board to do?

A: Right now, the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation Board needs to be communicating to everyone what all of us can do to conserve the land from overdevelopment and ruination.

We can all do something, but we must know what actions are effective.

Soil & Water Conservation District, Seat 5


Q: Why are you running?  

A: I’m running for re-election to further expand programs that are currently in place with the VSWCD, and [to] implement new ideas and programs.

Q: What do you want the function of Soil and Water to be?  

A: We currently provide education and information to the surrounding community on conservation methods and education. [For example, information on] community gardens, ways to reduce pesticides and efficient usage of fertilizers.  These are greatly impacting the quality of life for the current generation and will have catastrophic effects if we are not able to find ways to reduce their impact on the soil and water of our country.  We need to be able to expand our programs to educate and implement alternative methods and ground covers.


Q: Why are you running?  

A: I was blessed to be able to serve several years ago back in 2004. I was elected as supervisor for the SWCD, and subsequent to that was elected to the Volusia County Council. I like the SWCD — it has a lot of great things to offer.

When I was elected back in 2004, I was honored to be put on a national water policies committee, in which I was able to travel around the U.S. —  on my own bill, thank you — but I learned the different techniques of conservation and soil preservation, and I brought it back here and applied it. Basically, I’d like to serve and protect our environment.

Q: What do you want the function of Soil and Water to be?  

A: Our board doesn’t have a whole lot to do. It doesn’t have much of a budget, but it is instrumental in helping with the [USDA NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program] EQIP program. There are different programs that it helps with … like tailwater recovery. When you have a lot of water come on a property, they collect the water in a pond that they dig in the property, and they get grant funds to do that. [Farmers] utilize that as irrigation.

I think we can serve a deeper need, a better need, by branching out further and educating. When we look at development that comes before us, most of the time — they look at that development and the impact it’s going to have, but what about the effect that that development and all the other development does to the surrounding area?

I’d like to help the county and the city [establish] setbacks for fertilizer application, for any surface body [of water] to have additional setbacks. I would like to see swales introduced for developments, so there’s no runoff of fertilizer or grass clippings.

We only have a finite source of water …  we need it to be as pure as possible.

Slowly but surely, [the board should] get into the light once again. It unfortunately lost its [county] funding back in 2007. There was an issue of managing the funds.

I would like for the local board to slowly start growing again, so we can have more of an emphasis. I don’t expect anything to be handed over. We have to earn respect once again, and utilize our funding wisely.


Q: Why are you running?  

A: I believe the Soil and Water District needs a conservative voice on the board, so I am looking to maximize the services of the board while maintaining low or no expenses to the public.

Q: What do you want the function of Soil and Water to be?  

A: I believe there’s probably a great deal of services the board can provide to residents as well as agriculturalists. I believe something like half of the water use in the District may be for water use and lawns. I think there may be an opportunity to reduce the amount of runoff.

There may be programs to allow representatives of the District to evaluate individual water use or HOA water use and to allow them to make recommendations on how to conserve more.

I believe there’s a lot of opportunities for the District to be more involved with businesses of the county. I think it just takes some encouragement to do that. We’re not talking about taxes or fees. I think there’s more opportunity for the District to provide more hands-on services at no cost to the residents.


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