This last year marked our 20th year as a watershed council. Over the course of these 20 years, our organization has continued to adapt and change, just like a river does as it flows downstream. This year we cultivated several partnerships that we hope will help shape the course of our river. Both involve creating networks within various communities which we believe will increase the impact of our work, and that of others.
2018 marked the sunset of the Willamette River Initiative – a bold and unique funding commitment by Meyer Memorial Trust. For 10 years, we’ve partnered with hundreds of organizations and individuals to improve the health of Oregon’s big river – the mighty Willamette. Our activities here in the Willamette’s headwaters effect most of Oregon’s population (70%!) – from Springfield and Eugene all the way to Portland, where the Willamette meets the Columbia. With the end of this innovative initiative we are looking forward to the next iteration of basin-wide cooperation, the Willamette River Network. While still in its early stages, the Willamette River Network aims to engage more voices and perspectives for healthy communities and a healthy Willamette River. This even bolder vision will consider all of the work across our smaller geographies – like here in the Middle Fork Willamette – for system-wide coordination and impact across much of the Willamette Valley. Together, we envision a strong, inclusive, flexible alliance of Willamette River stakeholders. The Network will provide a shared vision and goals, provide coordination and offer shared services to the field while at the same time seeking increased funding on behalf of partners, advocating for actions that make a healthier river possible and championing equity within the movement for river health.
We are also looking at what strong partnerships can accomplish more locally in the Springfield, Eugene, and the surrounding rural areas through the creation of the Upper Willamette Stewardship Network. This partnership includes the Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council, McKenzie Watershed Council, Long Tom Watershed Council, Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah, and McKenzie River Trust. Together we aim to work more effectively across geographic boundaries to better help our communities care for land and water in the Upper Willamette through environmental education, community engagement, habitat restoration, and land protection. This year the Upper Willamette Stewardship Network will hire a coordinator to help support this group and help us reach our goals, stay tuned for an announcement on who we are hiring for this position! We are excited to see what this network can help provide to our organizations and communities.
Why do these networks matter? We are working to address systemic problems including endangered species, habitat degradation, water quality, and impacts of climate change. We are also working on more complicated solutions than ever before within our programs – all across a similar and sometimes shared geography. To be effective at tackling these problems with appropriate solutions, not only do we need success, but we need the support and success of our colleagues and friends. In thinking of our networks, we often refer to the words of John F. Kennedy, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” We hope these networks will serve as that tide.