PORTLAND, Ore. (July 20, 2019) — The Environmental Protection Agency recognized the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest regional fisheries biologist and regional Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Plan program lead for their contributions as part of a multi-agency federal team that established a now four-year-old partnership to encourage and fund watershed improvement efforts.
Jim Capurso, Pacific Northwest regional fisheries biologist for the USDA Forest Service, and Christine Hirsch, Pacific Northwest Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Plan (AREMP) Program Lead, were among six federal employees honored at the 2018 EPA National Honors awards July 10 for Outstanding Leadership in Collaborative Problem Solving, in recognition of their contributions as the Forest Service representatives to the Drinking Water Providers Partnership, of which the EPA and Bureau of Land Management are also members.
The Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a regional program that brings public and private partners together to select – and fund – projects that contribute to improving drinking water quality and watershed protection in the Pacific Northwest.
Mike Brown and Scott Lightcap, from the Bureau of Land Management, and Teresa Kubo and Michelle Tucker, from EPA Region 10, were also recognized as members of the federal team.
The Drinking Water Providers Partnership provides a mechanism for federal, state, local, and several non-government partners to collaboratively evaluate projects and share decisions about how to distribute pooled funds towards projects that reduce erosion and sedimentation, improve aquatic organism passage, increase the complexity of currents in streams and floodplains, address contamination or other issues related to legacy mining projects, perform vegetation management, and conduct public outreach and education efforts.
The collaborative decision-making model allows the partners to consider and prioritize projects where they will do the most good at a regional scale.
Local partners create the projects and pool resources for action – but if they need additional resources to complete the work, they can request additional funding at the regional level.
Capurso said that while the agencies face many hurdles in securing present and future water quality and native fish habitat against the many challenging issues they face, the success of the Drinking Water Providers Partnership partnership shows agencies and organizations are improving in their ability effectively collaborate across jurisdictional boundaries and rally behind common goals.
“When we were establishing this partnership, we literally went door to door visiting city and town water providers in the Cascade Mountains and Coast Range,” Capurso said. “Everywhere we went, from the ‘one horse’ towns to the larger cities, water providers were supportive, even excited, about the partnership.”
During its first four years, the Drinking Water Providers partnership has awarded more than $2.3 million in federal, state, and private funding towards watershed restoration, protection and improvement projects in Oregon and Washington.
Projects on seven national forests, including the Willamette, Umpqua, Wallowa-Whitman, Olympic, Okanogan-Wenatchee, Siuslaw, Gifford Pinchot, and Umatilla National Forests, to protect or improve drinking water supplies in more than a dozen communities (including Walla Walla, Cashmere, Leavenworth, Port Townsend Wash. and Glide, Eugene, Langlois, Cave Junction, Myrtle Point, Lincoln City, and Yachats, Ore.) received funds from partnership in 2019.
In addition to traditional projects, such as infrastructure repair, vegetation planting, and returning large wood to restore water current complexity to streams, some of the 2019 awards funded conservation education efforts:
The Umatilla National Forest and City of Walla Walla received funds for a documentary film on the Mill Creek Municipal Watershed as a drinking water source and how it serves as important wildlife habitat which will be used for education and outreach in the surrounding community.
Cascadia Conservation District partnered with Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on a project to education farmers, tree-fruit growers and viticulturalists in the Wenatchee watershed about best practices for protecting water quality and potentially achieving the Salmon-Safe certification for their products.
And the Olympic National Forest and City of Port Townsend will use some of the funds awarded for protecting the Big and Little Quilcene Rivers through improved sanitation facilities for managing human waste at recreation areas, and signage and even field ranger outreach to inform the public about proper human waste disposal and the dangers presented by fecal contamination of the city’s drinking water supply.
Other funds are allocated for research towards future water quality improvement and watershed protection opportunities.
The partnership awarded a 2019 grant to Trout Unlimited towards developing a GIS model that uses existing data to identify high-impact opportunities for beaver location on the Upper Columbia River. The McKenzie River Trust received funds to research into potential land acquisition opportunities to protect the drinking water source watershed for the City of Yachats.
Drinking Water Providers Partnership: https://www.workingwatersgeos.org/drinking-water-providers-partnership
Presentation re: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest region’s role in the partnership:
Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region (staff report)