Lessons from Waterkeepers around the Globe

Author: Watershed Programs Manager, Melissa von Mayrhauser.
Contact: melissavm@lawaterkeeper.org

Group shot at the 2017 Waterkeeper Alliance Conference. Photo by Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen.

Group shot at the 2017 Waterkeeper Alliance Conference. Photo by Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen.

How do we do the best job possible to protect Los Angeles County’s watersheds? We learn from fearless watershed protectors from around the globe of course – and at an elevation of 7,000 feet!

I recently had the chance to attend the Waterkeeper Alliance (WKA) Conference in Park City, Utah, which is located in the East Canyon Creek Watershed and Wasatch Mountains. It was a chance to experience first-hand the momentum of the fastest-growing water quality movement in the world.

LA Waterkeeper (then Santa Monica Baykeeper) was the ninth local office that joined Waterkeeper Alliance, an international umbrella organization that now includes more than 325 local Waterkeeper groups that work toward a future with swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters worldwide.

The original Santa Monica Baykeeper, Terry Tamminen, patrols the coast

The original Santa Monica Baykeeper, Terry Tamminen, patrols the coast

Here at LA Waterkeeper, we think a lot about the future of our regional water resources, particularly in terms of the importance of pursuing a water-resilient future for LA and the need to fight for watershed-level, community-led and ecologically-driven solutions for our streams and neighborhoods.

At the conference, I had a chance to learn from global water stewards who are placing an especially great emphasis on community engagement and activation right now in thinking about the future of our waterways. There was the sense that it can’t just be a few dedicated individuals who work for our streams in silence; it has to be an inclusive and unifying team effort, across communities and across the globe.

Melbourne, Australia’s Yarra Riverkeeper shared with us the importance of inclusive, collaborative river planning that recognizes and incorporates traditional stewardship and community needs. Currently, the Riverkeeper is carrying a landmark bill through the Victorian Legislative Assembly, alongside the Wurundjeri, the First Nation People of the Yarra. In a historic milestone, the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill was introduced to the Assembly in Woi-rwurrung, the language of the Wurundjeri. We learn from the Yarra Riverkeeper how critical it is for policies and campaigns to recognize First Nations groups as watershed planning leaders.

I was also impressed with the collaborative and insightful work of the Tualatin Riverkeepers (TRK) in Oregon, U.S.A. They work to engage communities in watershed stewardship by providing career training opportunities co-designed with culturally specific organizations serving Muslim and Latino immigrant communities in TRK’s watershed. For example, they have an Urban Forestry job training opportunity to provide paid trainings that reflect the intersection between forestry and river health. They place a special emphasis on training older adults to redirect their careers to the environmental field, recognizing that we need a range of skill sets and backgrounds in our field to make the environmental movement stronger.

amigo

Tijuana Waterkeeper’s Restaurante Amigo del Mar Certification Event

We had the pleasure of meeting the Tijuana Waterkeeper, a project of Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental (English: Cross-Border Environmental Education Project), at our office recently and also heard more about their work at the WKA Conference. The Tijuana, Mexico-based organization inspires us with their efforts to reduce plastic waste in our oceans with their Restaurante Amigo del Mar Certificate program, which connects businesses to the ocean and promotes corporate responsibility in terms of water pollution. In collaboration with Surfrider Foundation and local restaurants, Tijuana Waterkeeper is incentivizing the reduction of single-use plastic items, which are some of the most detrimental objects found in our ocean and riverine ecosystems.

Recreation in Santa Barbara's Marine Protected Areas. Image via www.sbck.org

Recreation in Santa Barbara’s Marine Protected Areas. 
Image via www.sbck.org

Tualatin Riverkeepers and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper also joined us for a presentation on “Engaging Communities in Watershed Stewardship.” I not only enjoyed hearing from fellow presenters, but also from the audience. Almost everyone offered thoughts about what community engagement means to them in their cultural and hydrological context. These open and spontaneous forums for sharing watershed ideas can be just as thought-provoking as planned presentations themselves!

Here at LA Waterkeeper, we also believe that planning efforts for the future of our waterways should not view community and the environment as two separate concerns, but as part of one integrated approach. We carry this belief forward with our Watershed Program, through which we aim to facilitate access to tools and trainings about water science, so that community members can meaningfully engage with river restoration planning! Our Marine Protected Areas Watch Program also connects people with the ocean through boat-based surveys of human activity in MPAs.

We look forward to continuing to connect our work to fellow Waterkeepers who share this planet. Let’s put some blue stamps in our passports next.

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LA Waterkeeper
120 Broadway, Suite 105
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Phone: 310-394-6162
Fax: 310-394-6178

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