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…On Watershed Management and Restoration

posted Oct 27, 2015, 11:45 AM by Erika Howder

Yeah, I pretty much love this. For a lot of reasons. It is complicated, no easy answers, many ways to get to an end goal, and the end goal is determined by…what? Good question. There is some science, we know what a lot of the problems are, we know how to address some of the problems, in part, not as whole. Not a lot of success stories, but a few. Restoring a watershed might be a pretty straightforward thing, in a watershed with no people in it. Then tons of science could be applied and we could see how this and that application actually resulted in this and that outcome. But that’s the thing, because the watersheds that need restoring, have that one thing about them, called people. And communities. Social fabric. Needs. Wants. So we can’t have watershed restoration without considering the people. And of course the people are incredibly complicated too. So we have these complicated ecological interactions disturbed by complicated problems caused by people that are complicated in social, emotional, psychological and physical ways.…So how is one, who has SO MUCH desire to make her community a better place, to not only make sense of it all, but to actually make some in-roads on that same desire. It ain’t easy, that’s for sure.

My first real introduction to the complicated nature of this beast was in northwest Oregon. In that neck of the woods, the common practice is “community-based watershed restoration.” This means enabling all the various stakeholders to participate in identifying and addressing watershed protection and restoration activities. These may be large land holders, industry, local government and tribes, with environmental, recreational and education-oriented folks thrown into the mix. Together, decisions, strategies, projects and programs are vetted and implemented. This type of process proposes more locally relevant solutions that take into account a community’s unique social, economic, and environmental conditions and values. And, best of it all, it works – Oregon has restored more stream miles than CA, WA, ID and AK COMBINED. Amazing.

I’ve been using similar approaches in my work here on the East Coast….Between my job in OR and what I’m doing now, I got a bunch of technical knowledge under my belt from working at the Center for Watershed Protection for 5+ years. What I’ve been doing since my tail end career at the Center and now, is working on the best approaches for applying my technical knowledge to community-centric approaches to watershed restoration. My primary study area (informally – this has all been through various unpaid and paid work), has been in Ellicott City, MD. Yeah. Should’ve started with an easier watershed to test out my skilz, yo. Hundreds of years of flooding, historic community built on the floodplain, lots of unique personalities, a government that has hard time getting actual things done, businesses and houses built on old, old walls ready to fail and create a disaster…Complicated. Yet fascinating…She fears to look yet she cannot turn away…It is a small watershed – the science would rule in favor of being able to make a difference as far as that goes (big watersheds – hard to restore, i.e. Chesapeake Bay). But it has a lot of development – lose points on the difference-making scale there. The community is vocal and interested in solutions. Some of them. The ones that are interested, live downstream from the ones that aren’t, so there’s that. More science says that there’s not much that can be done about the flooding. But maybe something can be done about some of the issues – some properties may flood less if we do that, these old walls will last longer if we do this, maybe if we were to just do this thing, we wouldn’t have such a stinkin’ mess if it did flood. Wow. Lots to think about – an endless array of approaches could be taken, and would they work?

I will keep trying…in Ellicott City, in Howard County, in the small watershed where I live. I love to do this work. There are so many problems to fix, so many ways to fix them, so many ways to not just make a difference for the ecology, but to make a difference in the community. With the people. For the people. We can be so narrow minded in our approaches, so afraid to try something new, to even think of an alternative way of doing something. We are limited only by ourselves as far as figuring out solutions to these things. Let’s get together – you and I – think about it, for just a little bit, and then DO something. Who’s with me??