A Model of Watershed Collaboration: Lessons in Structure

A Model of Watershed Collaboration: Lessons in Structure

By Geoff Peach, Lake Huron Center for Coastal Conservation

Working collaboratively at the grassroots level has become a normal mode of business for most environmental organizations. In southwestern Ontario, a local watershed based agency has formalized inter-organizational collaboration in what is called the Maitland Watershed Partnership. This partnership has brought agencies, farmers, business, industry and ENGO’s together to dialogue, strategize and at times embark collectively on environmental improvement projects.

The Maitland River watershed is located about midway along the southern Lake Huron shoreline, and is primarily a rural, agriculture-based watershed. Its area covers approximately 2500 square kilometers. It has had a decades long issue with poor surface water quality, which has contributed to the posting of area beaches warning of risks to swimming due to high bacteria. In addition, high amounts of nitrate and phosphorous have been a concern from the standpoint of enrichment of local waters and harm to aquatic organisms. On the landside, concerns included the relative lack of forest cover (18% for the watershed), and the effects of increasingly intensive agricultural operations.

The Maitland Watershed Partnerships (MWP) project was initiated to improve the self-reliance of organizations in the Maitland watershed. The goal of the MWP is to identify innovative approaches to improving the long-term social, economic, and environmental health of the Maitland watershed.

The project objectives were:

• To develop a better understanding of the major natural resource management issues,

• To build a capacity of local service providers to deal with these issues, and

• To build alliances among service providers to deal with these issues.

In March 1999, 27 organizations and agencies with mandates relating to natural resource management came together to identify and evaluate resource management issues facing the Maitland watershed. Three priority topics were identified: aquatic systems, terrestrial or natural areas systems, and ecological agriculture.

The Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) housed and staffed the project from its office in Wroxeter, Ontario.The Project Coordinator, MVCA technical staff, and resource experts assisted with the project.

Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) provided seed funding in January of 1999 to initiate the project. This funding was used to provide facilitators, technical and administrative support to the Steering Committee and the service teams as they developed collaborative management strategies.

As organizations joined the project they provided additional financing in the form of in-kind and cash contributions. Contributions from participating organizations were directed towards demonstration and research projects to help build a better understanding of the socio-economic-environmental attributes of the watershed.

The MWP represents a diverse group successfully involving local community members in watershed initiatives designed to improve the ecological health of the watershed, and the quality of the waters it contributes into Lake Huron. The MWP is an ongoing project, and both the Water Team and Terrestrial Team meet quarterly to discuss current issues. These groups work to identify small grassroots projects, like riverbank rehabilitation, water testing programs, and other small scale initiatives involving local community members, organizations and agencies.

A CD was produced outlining how the MWP project was structured and the lessons learned from the process. The CD also includes descriptions of the research and demonstration projects undertaken by the service teams. For more information on this project, contact the MVCA office (tel: 519-335-3557 or email: maitland@mvca.on.ca) to obtain a copy of the CD.

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For morformation: Geoff Peach, Lake Huron Center for Coastal Conservation P.O. Box 178, Blyth, Ontario, Canada N0M 1H0 PH: (519) 523-4478 • Fax: (519) 523-4929 E-mail: geoff.peach@lakehuron.on.ca Website: www.lakehuron.on.ca

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.