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.
James 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.
“I think this is the first time we’ve had a funding partnership which also includes state funding in the mix. This particular partnership also includes non-profits that have been instrumental in reaching out to the municipal water providers,” Hirsch said. “Traditionally, the Forest Service hasn’t partnered very frequently with water providers so this is bringing new partners into the fold to accomplish key restoration work.”
The Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a regional interagency program that protects and restores drinking water quality and native fish habitat within municipal watersheds, benefiting the towns depending upon them for clean, pure water. A component of the partnership pools agency financial resources to fund restoration projects and outreach efforts within municipal watersheds.
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 Partnership provides a mechanism for federal, state, local, and several non-government partners to collaboratively evaluate projects and distribute pooled funds towards projects benefiting municipal watersheds, including those reducing erosion and sedimentation, improving aquatic organism passage, increasing the complexity of habitats in streams and floodplains, addressing contamination or other issues related to legacy mining projects, performing vegetation management, and conducting public outreach and education efforts.
Local partners create the projects and pool resources for action – but if they need additional resources to complete the work, they submit applications for regional funding.
“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 traffic light 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.
“It sounds straightforward; like everyone puts their money in, then we pick the projects and write checks. But there are so many rules and limitations on what we use the money for among the various agencies and partners… that’s where a lot of the creative problem-solving comes in. We rank the projects and determine whose funding can legally be used to support it,” Hirsch said.
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 protection 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:
Gallery: The Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a collaboration of the USDA Forest Service Region 6, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Washington Department of Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management OR/WA Office, the Geos Institute, and WildEarth Guardians. The floodplain enhancement work on the lower South Fork of the McKenzie River, located on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, pictured here, was funded in part through funds allocated by the partnership; approximately one third of the funds awarded were from non-Forest Service partners.
Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region (staff report)