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Building Capacity for Watershed Stewardship

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Most people agree that there is a critical need to protect our watershed attributes and resources- particularly in the Great Lakes region where the lakes are not only a source of drinking water but are an important component of our local economy. Because of seemingly divergent interests, such as conserving critical habitat versus developing new homes and businesses, not everyone agrees on the best methods to protect this natural resource for future generations. Many of these conflicts take place at the local, subwatershed level and result in piecemeal, local policies that do not promote the overall health of the watershed. Therefore, there is an increasing need to bring these seemingly conflicting interests together.

The Delta Institute on behalf of the Lake Michigan Public Forum and the Lake Erie Binational Public Forum, in cooperation with the state and federal regulatory agencies and local stakeholders, is working in the Mona Lake watershed in Michigan and the Black River watershed in Ohio, respectively, to understand the implications of local policies on watershed protection and, ultimately, change the way local planning and policy-making is conducted. In each watershed, local input is critical to understanding the effects of local planning and policies on the health of the watershed; however, the form that input takes in each project is different. The Lake Michigan Forum has created a process to identify opportunities for increased local stewardship of watershed ecosystems, based on the Forum's expertise and on input from local leaders and citizens. Local community members can use these recommendations as a guide for designing and implementing programs that will protect and improve the condition of the watershed. At the same time, policy makers can use the recommendations to craft policies for increasing the stewardship capacity of local communities throughout the Lake Michigan basin.

The Delta Institute on behalf of the Lake Michigan Public Forum and the Lake Erie Binational Public Forum, in cooperation with the state and federal regulatory agencies and local stakeholders, is working in the Mona Lake watershed in Michigan and the Black River watershed in Ohio, respectively, to understand the implications of local policies on watershed protection and, ultimately, change the way local planning and policy-making is conducted. In each watershed, local input is critical to understanding the effects of local planning and policies on the health of the watershed; however, the form that input takes in each project is different. The Lake Michigan Forum has undertaken a process to rapidly evaluate the level of stewardship in any watershed, as compared to a best-case stewardship scenario. Based on input from local leaders and citizens, as well as a panel of experts, the process revealed a collection of opportunities within the watershed where enhanced stewardship could help protect and improve environmental quality. Local community members can use these recommendations as a guide for designing and implementing programs that will protect and improve the condition of the watershed. At the same time, policy makers can use the recommendations to craft policies for increasing the stewardship capacity of local communities throughout the Lake Michigan basin.

The Lake Erie Forum is taking a different approach in the Black River watershed. Working with local municipalities, schools, planning departments, and natural resource agencies, the Lake Erie Forum will undertake a community input process where the community identifies and prioritizes watershed issues they believe are necessary to the environmental and socio-economic health of the watershed. Working together, the stakeholders will identify and start to implement programs- such as regional land use ordinances- to address those issues. A critical component of the Lake Erie Forum's project is hiring a local coordinator that is housed within the watershed and reports to a key, local stakeholder (e.g. local planning department) to champion the initiative. The local coordinator is a tangible way to institutionalize watershed planning into the municipal infrastructure.

This paper presents case studies for each watershed project. The paper goes on to discuss how each approach will result in increased awareness of watershed issues and improved ecosystem health.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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