By Chris Grubb
A group of nearly 50 river advocates from across the state of Michigan gathered at the University of Michigan-Flint Campus on October 24-25 to participate in the Michigan River Alliance (MRA) Annual Meeting.MRA (formerly known as the Michigan River Network) is a coalition of groups and individuals working to protect and restore Michigan’s rivers and watersheds. MRA assists groups working at the grassroots level by increasing communication, information-sharing, and providing technical assistance.
At this year’s meeting, Michigan river advocates were joined by national experts Gayle Killam of the River Network, Betsy Otto of American Rivers, and Peter Lane of the Institute for Conservation Leadership. Each presenter brought a unique perspective to the meeting. The MRA Annual Meeting offered workshops on using the clean water act to prevent stormwater pollution and on board and volunteer leadership development. Attendees were also updated on state and national river issues and learning about the Heritage Water Trail System.
A portion of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the future direction of MRA. After having existed as a project of Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council for several years, MRA is currently in the process of evolving into a separate organization. An interim board of directors is in place, and they have been busy completing Bylaws, Articles of Incorporation, and preparing to file for 501(c)(3) or “charitable organization” status with the Internal Revenue Service. The interim board has agreed on three priority programmatic areas for when they get up and running: 1) small dam removal, 2) working on needed changes to the list of impaired and threatened waters (303(d)) list, and 3) issues surrounding the Natural Rivers Act.
Betsy Otto and Jessica Opfer of the Clinton River Watershed Council added national and local perspectives to Gayle Killam’s workshop, “Making Michigan’s Stormwater Program Local: Community and Watershed Opportunities.” They focused on how to prevent stormwater pollution impacts from urbanized areas, construction sites, and industrial facilities. Otto discussed Michigan’s State Revolving Loan Fund as a source of funding for stormwater projects, while Opfer highlighted some of the Clinton River Watershed Council’s successes in utilizing a subwatershed strategy and student monitors. The workshop closed with an exciting problem-solving session where those in attendance discussed how they could apply some of the ideas presented to their own watersheds.
Peter Lane led the workshop on organizational capacity building, which was focused around two themes: “Board Development: Achieving Results Through Leadership” and “Volunteer Leadership Development: Involving the Community.” The workshop gave participants the chance to critically examine their organizations and strategize ways to strengthen them.
During Friday’s river issues update, Betsy Otto announced that the scope of the Clean Water Act, which has ensured broad protection of waters in the United States for over 30 years, is under threat of being narrowed. Following a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that limited federal jurisdiction over isolated, non-navigable, intrastate waters and wetlands, Bush administration officials have drafted a rule that would eliminate an estimated 20 percent of the nation’s wetlands from protection under the Clean Water Act. Otto also noted that a significant portion of seasonal and ephemeral streams would go unprotected. Chris Grubb, of the Tip of the MittWatershed Council, in Petoskey, MI, gave an update on legislation that recently passed the Michigan House to dramatically weaken the Natural Rivers Act.
MRA would like to send a special thanks to the people of the Flint River Watershed Coalition and the University of Michigan-Flint Center for Applied Environmental Research who were a tremendous help in hosting the event and providing organizational support.