An Initiative A Day Initiative 7.4: Strengthen and expand watershed partnerships that foster communication and collaboration between upstream and downstream communities across all Northeast Ohio watershed geographies.

March 10, 2014 in Vibrant NEO 2040, Vision

On February 25, the NEOSCC Board voted unanimously to approve and endorse the Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Action Products.  We are sharing an “Initiative A Day” so you can gain a better understanding of the vision and framework!  If you would like to read all of the Initiatives, you can download them here: Recommendation and Initiatives.  You can access a pdf of the entire vision chapter here.  The vision chapter contains all 41 initiatives, development strategies, indicators, and matrices that identify how the recommendations, initiatives and indicators all relate.

Show your support for Vibrant NEO 2040 by adding your name to our Champions of Vibrant NEO 2040 list here.

INITIATIVE 7.4: STRENGTHEN AND EXPAND WATERSHED PARTNERSHIPS THAT FOSTER COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION BETWEEN UPSTREAM AND DOWNSTREAM COMMUNITIES ACROSS ALL NORTHEAST OHIO WATERSHED GEOGRAPHIES.

WHAT THIS MEANS. Watershed partnerships are collaborations of municipal jurisdictions, parks authorities, soil and water districts, and, occasionally, community groups whose boundaries fall within the same watershed. Often advised by scientific experts and environmental advocacy organizations, watershed partnerships are vehicles for promoting good policy and intergovernmental cooperation on stormwater management, stream restoration, and flood control. The model developed as a result of U.S. and state EPA mandates to control nonpoint source pollution and erosion, which specified that such partnerships would be formed to aid in development of “Watershed Action Plans” to guide individual stakeholders’ remediation efforts. The success of the mandatory watershed partnerships has inspired the formation of voluntary partnerships in the region and throughout the country.

There is a wide range of programmatic scopes for watershed partnerships. Any partnership formed in response to EPA mandates must carry out certain activities related to implementation of a watershed action plan, typically regulatory action at the level of the individual jurisdiction. Most partnerships also provide educational programming for local primary and secondary school students, as well as technical assistance and advisory services to members of the partnership. Some partnerships assist members with grant applications for projects, employing a partnership-based vetting project to advance the strongest projects to the competition. Operations are typically supported by a mix of member contributions and grants from state and federal supporting agencies. A much smaller number of partnerships have more robust funding requirements and standards, such as proportional allocation of membership fee by land area or population. Northeast Ohio is fortunate to have a robust network of watershed partnerships, some of which are doing national practice-leading work. Chagrin River Watershed Partners is an example of note. Like many other regional watershed partnerships, Chagrin was formed in response to a regulatory requirement. It proved to be a highly effective collaboration, and its members decided to incorporate it as a non-profit organization. With a budget derived from membership fees and voluntary contributions—making it a unique case and example for the growth of other Northeast Ohio watershed partnerships—Chagrin River Watershed Partners has been able to successfully mature into a trusted resource for its 37 members, which include municipalities, townships, and parks authorities in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Portage Counties.  In addition to convening stakeholders and providing technical assistance, it is empowered to provide subsidies and other financial incentives within the scope of its portfolio of restoration and retrofit projects.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT. Because outcomes associated with good ecosystem management generally manifest over a longer term than can be felt in municipal political and budget cycles, they are usually subordinated to more immediate concerns. The effects of deferring action compound over time and eventually cost communities dearly. Cooperation with other jurisdictions on issues that cross boundaries is a winning proposition, as it spreads the costs of action across a larger resource base and allows focus on projects with maximum benefit to the functioning of a large-scale system. This is the essential logic for watershed partnerships, the most effective of which have developed scientifically informed strategies for policies and physical improvements to watershed systems. The case of Chagrin River Watershed Partners illustrates the value of cooperation and pooling of resources to tackle common problems at the watershed scale. When the partnership first convened in 1996, it began with a data gathering and research process to understand the spatial distribution of stress areas within the watershed. This contributed to development of a common base of knowledge on which the partners could generate and evaluate options for physical and policy improvements within the watershed. The final Watershed Action Plan contained a section identifying most impactful and suitable areas for implementation of stormwater best management practices (BMPs); the partners worked in subsequent years to steadily implement treatments in these areas. In 2006, the partners convened again to create a Balanced Growth Plan for the watershed. The final plan, passed in 2009, contained a new tier of goals and recommended actions for the partners that moved beyond riparian-based interventions to more general matters of land use policy and urban design.

GETTING IT DONE. Watershed partnerships should be considered an integral step in the effort to preserve the region’s water quality for future generations. Presently, 12 watershed partnerships are active in Northeast Ohio, mostly covering drainage basins to Lake Erie (though a few notable gaps in this network exist, namely in Ashtabula County); fewer watershed partnerships in parts of the region south of the Lake Erie drainage basin. Partnerships should be formed in all of the region’s watersheds. For areas where a watershed partnership currently does not exist, efforts to form a partnership could be led by Areawide Planning Agencies like NOACA, Eastgate, and NEFCO, or by local county officials in collaboration with municipal and township officials. NEFCO already sponsors a full-time watershed coordinator for the Upper Tuscarawas and Middle Cuyahoga River Watersheds. All partnerships, new or existing, should consider engagement of land conservancies, land banks, and other organizations involved in land preservation a top priority. Partnerships should also directly engage community and neighborhood groups should also be engaged directly in the work of watershed partnerships, if they are not already. Doing this creates a network for voluntary action at the scale of the individual homeowner that can augment the positive stormwater management impacts of traditional riparian-based interventions.

Lead Watershed Partnerships; Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Councils of Governments; Municipalities, Townships, Counties
Target Community Strategic investment areas, asset risk areas, cost risk areas
Implementation Complexity Moderate

These recommendations, initiatives, and products, are not one-size-fits all and some aspects of the initiatives won’t be applicable everywhere in the 12-county region. The Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Products are intended inspire and guide decision-making at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Council of Government, and local levels to ensure that land use, transportation, and environmental considerations are simultaneously addressed by their processes. Ultimately, the implementation of Vibrant NEO 2040 is up to Northeast Ohio’s communities and residents. But regardless of the applicability of each initiative to any particular part of the region, the goal for each community within the Vision is the same: stability, prosperity, and a high quality of life for all of its residents.

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