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The RCD of Monterey County was established in 1942 as a non-regulatory special local district, authorized under Division 9 of California Public Resources Code. Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), formerly known as Soil Conservation Districts, are a form of non-regulatory local government comparable to a Fire District. RCDs are political subdivisions of the State of California, set up under California Public Resource Code to be locally governed agencies with their own locally appointed or elected, independent boards of directors.

In response to the national "Dust Bowl" crisis of the 1930s, when millions of acres of cropland were destroyed by drought and the devastating loss of fertile topsoil, the federal government passed legislation in 1937 to establish the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Concern arose about whether a federal agency would be responsive to local needs, so states were asked to form Soil Conservation Districts led by local landowners serving on boards of directors to work in collaboration with and provide local input to guide the programmatic priorities of NRCS. The NRCS provides assistance to growers, ranchers and landowners only in areas with Resource Conservation Districts.

In 1938, the State of California recognized the importance of Soil Conservation Districts and authorized their formation under Article 9 of Public Resource Code. Though not governed by the state, special districts including RCDs are subject to state law concerning elections, responsibilities and legal meetings. Under Article 9, Soil Conservation Districts were originally empowered to manage soil and water resources for conservation, but these powers were expanded in the early 1970s to include "related resources," including water quality and wildlife habitat. This expansion of powers was reflected in the change of name from "Soil" Conservation Districts to "Resource" Conservation Districts in 1971.

The California Association of RCDs (CARCD) provides support and organization to the 97 RCDs in California.