Watershed Conservation: Group organization and community support
A watershed group serves as a good forum for building community support. This group can gather information and put together a watershed plan while continuing to involve the larger community.
The more local support you can find for watershed protection, the better.
What makes a watershed group successful?
There are many watershed protection groups throughout the country, and no two are the same. What makes a group successful? First you have to define success. It includes developing a quality program and setting and reaching goals — cleaning up pollution, improving recreation access, educating the public, restoring aquatic ecosystems, writing a watershed conservation plan.
Success also depends on a group’s:
- ability to persevere over time to monitor or enforce watershed protection.
Starting a group
The impetus to start a watershed protection group usually comes from one or two concerned citizens, who set up an initial meeting to gather together others who are interested.
As soon as possible, produce a map that clearly outlines the watershed boundaries. If the watershed is large, the map should include sub basin boundaries. This will give everyone the same picture of the watershed.
Watershed group: first meeting
Who should be at the first meeting of the watershed group, and how should it be organized? That depends on you, your goals, and your community. Here are a few tips:
- Invite selected participants to the first group meeting. Include individuals from local schools, colleges, and land trusts; local officials who are interested in protecting water; concerned citizens as well as local experts who can lend some expertise.
- Invite participants who share concern about local water resources and want to develop a plan for the watershed’s future. It is not necessary to invite a ‘representative’ sample of the community if that includes individuals who would argue about the need to protect water. At this stage in the process, individuals who do not support watershed conservation can derail your effort before you even get started. There will be time to address conflicting interests later in the process.
- Find a professional facilitator to run the first couple of meetings. This professional touch can help the group organize and move forward so that even after one meeting, participants will feel that their time was well spent and they accomplished something. This group is the first community you’re building, so people need to get to know each other and have a chance to participate.
- Set up a few brief presentations about your watershed and watershed protection in general. Allow sufficient time for participants to talk to each other and share their views.
- Give participants the opportunity to sign up for the next level of involvement— you’ll need to establish a “core” group that will shepherd the project through the next months as it develops. You may also encourage volunteers to form sub-groups so they can get together and gather information and ideas.
The core group should contain only those who fully support the mission of the group and feel comfortable about promoting and advocating for that mission. Once the group has established an identify with a strong core of committed individuals, and gathered some information to support its mission, it has a better chance of responding effectively to challenges from those who oppose its goals.
The group’s mission statement: brief, specific, clear!
A mission/ vision that states the purpose of your group should be crafted as soon as possible to give the group an identity and common focus.
A clear mission statement will also help you reach out to the larger community; people need to understand what you’re about and what your focus will be. A clear statement helps potential volunteers by letting them know how they can contribute to your effort. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s “Saving the Bay through education, advocacy, litigation, and restoration” is a good example of a clear, specific statement.
From mission statement to credibility
The group begins to build credibility as it carries out its mission.
Will your messages to the public reflect a plan and actions based on sound science? Will you incorporate community values? Is the information you provide reliable? Do your recommendations make sense?
Examples and ideas from other groups
You can get ideas about mission statements and group goals by looking at some water protection group websites, such as those listed in the “staying connected” section (which includes over 200 websites). A few examples follow:
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Maryland). Mission statement:“Saving the bay through education, advocacy, litigation, and restoration.” Though this group focuses on a huge watershed, many of their methods, actions, and protocol for measuring progress in restoring the bay can be adapted and used effectively in small watersheds. The Foundation produces an annual State of the Bay report, and a scorecard to track and measure annual progress in addressing key watershed problems. Check out the report for ideas: http://www.cbf.org/about-the-bay/state-of-the-bay-report-2014
Wappinger Creek Watershed Planning Committee (New York). Wappinger Creek Watershed: Natural Resources Management Plan describes watershed data collection and results; management strategies for achieving water quality goals and specific objectives (focuses on vegetated buffers; addressing nitrate, phosphate and bacteria pollution from sewage disposal systems; restructuring residential development patterns; identifying agricultural operations that contribute nonpoint source pollution. The Plan contains detailed site specific information about how these watershed problems can be addressed, and is action-oriented. http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/water_pdf/wapingercreekws.pdf
Rogue River Watershed Council (Oregon)- Mission statement: “Promoting stewardship of the Rogue River Watershed through restoration, education, and community involvement.” The group’s activities include: instream and streamside habitat restoration, water quality improvement, outreach and community engagement, and monitoring. The website includes watershed assessments and analyses. http://www.rogueriverwc.org
Catawba Riverkeeper (North Carolina). “We educate and advocate to protect the Catawba-Wateree River Basin’s lakes, rivers, and streams for everyone who depends on and enjoys them.” The group provides information about the health of the basin, sources of pollution, a “why should you care about the health of the basin” section, major water issues, recreational options and access, and a “how you can help” section. http://www.catawbariverkeeper.org
Ausable River Association (New York). “The mission of the Ausable River Association is to identify, conserve, and restore the Ausable River watershed’s natural and recreational resources for their ecological value and the benefit of human communities.” With a small staff, dedicated volunteer board, and numerous volunteers, the group addresses threats to water quality and river ecology. “We pursue basic research, encourage sound stewardship practices, provide outreach and education opportunities, and we plan, design, and implement effective restoration, monitoring, and stewardship projects.” http://www.ausableriver.org
South River Watershed Alliance (Georgia). Mission: “To protect and restore the water quality and biodiversity of the South River Watershed to the beneficial use of people and wildlife.” The group has an eight member board and many volunteers. Projects include water quality monitoring, a river trail, stewardship network, community awareness, and addressing specific pollution problems and solutions. http://www.southriverga.org