With issues like vacant lots and urban flooding, the Patapsco Watershed/Baltimore Region Urban Waters Federal Partnership is working with a variety of stakeholders to create solutions through actionable science—or “science you can use”—in the Baltimore region watersheds. Significant strides in greening vacant lots have brought more opportunities and resources to the community; and by prioritizing cross-discipline and cross-jurisdictional partnerships, the Baltimore Actionable Science Flood Team is moving forward work on building community resilience to future flood impacts in the region.
Mālama Maunalua and partners are using a holistic approach to restore coastal water systems in Maunalua Bay based on the traditional Hawaiian practice of ahupua‘a. In order to accomplish restoration from the mountains to the reef, local groups work together while educating and engaging the community to improve the overall water quality and decrease flooding in the entire watershed.
Once a thriving tidal river, the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River became known as the lost branch when it fell from public awareness. Stemming from this lack of awareness, it also became one of the most polluted tributaries in the watershed. The Elizabeth River Project and partners have set out to change that, with public awareness campaigns and multi-sector partnerships to restore urban shorelines with native oysters. Because of these efforts the Chesapeake Bay Program now recognizes the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River fully restored for oyster habitat; and there have been significant improvements in water quality demonstrating that large-scale restoration with multiple community partners can restore an once dead urban waterway.
Three watershed associations in the Boston area—the Mystic River, Charles River, and Neponset River Watershed Associations—are collaborating with community volunteers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor water quality and develop annual “report cards” that communicate the recreational … Continued
Friends of the Rio de Flag (FoRio) is a small nonprofit organization in Flagstaff, AZ working on education, restoration, and river planning within their watershed. With an EPA Environmental Justice Small Grant awarded in 2017, FoRio worked strategically to strengthen relationships in the community by centering environmental justice in their work. FoRio formed partnerships with the City of Flagstaff as well as with residents of the historically segregated Southside Neighborhood where stormwater flooding is a problem.
As a data-driven agency, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) brings science for decision-making to the San Antonio Urban Waters Federal Partnership. As a member of the Federal Partnership, the USGS is helping inform management agencies in the region about the effects of urbanization by monitoring water quality and water quantity.
The Middle Rio Grande faces unique urban challenges due to regional drought and competing water uses. To address these issues, the area was designated as an Urban Waters Federal Partnership location in 2013. From large redevelopment projects to smaller, unique projects—like the Mobile Pop-Up Park —the Partnership has worked together with the community to become a partnership of ‘yes’. As Mandy Griego, former Partnership co-lead, puts it: “We are stronger together.”
With a strong background in youth engagement, Rocking the Boat is a nonprofit organization in the South Bronx that supports kids’ growth through hands-on discovery. What started as a boatbuilding after-school program has grown into a multi-pronged approach for youth empowerment in an environmental justice community.
Broward County, Florida Once a part of the vast expanse of the Everglades wetlands, Broward County, Florida was first thought by settlers to be uninhabitable. Draining wetlands and building near the coastline made population increases possible. Today it is home … Continued
The South Platte River Urban Waters Partnership (SPRUWP) focuses on the headwaters and the Denver metropolitan area, and consists of over seventy organizations, including Federal and state government, municipalities, universities, NGOs and private businesses, all collaborating to address the problems facing the South Platte and improve this vital waterway for current and future generations — as well as those who live downstream of Denver.
When Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017, septic and power systems in the San Juan Bay Estuary failed and crucial habitats were destroyed as had been predicted by the vulnerability assessment conducted four years earlier. Although Estuario was prepared to respond, guided by the adaptation plans established in 2015, aging infrastructure, continued development in the watershed, and intense hurricane forces multiplied the impacts of flooding and water pollution. In the aftermath of the storm, it was very clear to Estuario leaders that aggressive actions needed to be taken to increase both the ecological and economic resiliency of the watershed. Estuario doubled-down on its efforts with #EstuarioRevive, an initiative designed to implement projects to monitor, restore, and increase the resilience efforts of the San Juan Bay Estuary.
Partnerships and strong communication between government agencies and non-government organizations are key elements to overcoming the barriers to revegetation efforts of the urban sections of the Green-Duwamish River. The Green the Green Network (GGN) was developed over the last year under leadership of the Urban Waters Federal Ambassador, the King County Lower Green River Basin Steward and representatives from Forterra and American Rivers. With the intention of formalizing a partnership with clear goals and direction, leaders created the GGN to implement coordinated revegetation efforts in the watershed.
Groundwork Richmond, established in 2010, is one of 20 Trusts within the Groundwork USA network. The organization plays an integral role in developing the greenway, greening the urban landscape, engaging the community, and educating youth. Environmental justice is also central to Groundwork Richmond’s programs, which benefit both the environment and the local community. Groundwork Richmond has formed strong partnerships with local organizations and agencies to provide meaningful job training and workforce development to build the Richmond Greenway and enhance urban forestry.
Together, partners in the Northwest Indiana area are leading people to the water. The LaPorte Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) – established in 1937 by the Indiana Soil Conservation Act – plays a vital role in both the Trail Creek Watershed Partnership and the Northwest Indiana Federal Partnership. They offer a variety of programs that educate and empower the community to take an active role in protecting their environment. In addition, the LaPorte SWCD is involved in watershed planning, advocating and implementing best management practices within the Trail Creek Watershed.
To further combat the impacts of CSOs, stormwater runoff, and pollution in urban watersheds, local organizations and businesses formed the RI Green Infrastructure Coalition (GIC) in 2014. The Coalition is made up of nearly 40 local businesses, non-profits, and government offices in the Providence-Metro and Newport-Aquidneck Island areas. They are forming partnerships and using green infrastructure to decrease stormwater flooding, address climate change impacts, enhance water quality, and promote equity in urban watersheds.
Environmental Community Action, Inc (ECO-Action) – a grassroots organization that works with people to fight for their rights to clean air, land, and water – acts as a support system to the communities they serve by providing resources and creating partnerships with other organizations. They have developed many programs designed for educating and empowering the Proctor and Intrenchment Creek watershed communities to advocate for equity and environmental protections. Among their initiatives, ECO-Action is heavily involved in community education and advocacy towards the implementation of green infrastructure projects that address stormwater flooding issues and provide more livable neighborhoods for underserved communities.
In 2013, the Proctor Creek Watershed was designated by the EPA as an Urban Waters Federal Partnership location, with goals to engage the community while improving water quality, providing green spaces, and supporting green infrastructure. The Conservation Fund was awarded an EPA Urban Waters Small Grant in 2016 to work with residents and multiple organizations of the Proctor Creek Watershed to create green infrastructure solutions that benefit the community and the environment.
To further understand the severity and sources of bacterial pollution in the four urban subwatersheds in the Hudson River Estuary, Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB), supported by an EPA Urban Waters Small Grant, created the Lower Hudson Urban Waters Collaborative. Partnering with Riverkeeper, the Hudson River Watershed Alliance, and the Bronx River Alliance, the Urban Waters Collaborative created a strong partnership in the Lower Hudson Valley in which the organizations share experiences and combine data resources with the goal of strengthening stewardship and community science capacity.
Los Angeles River Watershed: Climate, Pollution, and Policies The Los Angeles (LA) River watershed covers an area of 854 square miles, originating in the Santa Monica, Santa Susana, and San Gabriel Mountains. The headwaters of the river are mainly open … Continued
With new water uses in these sections of the LA River and more revitalization on the horizon, water quality monitoring for public health and community engagement becomes chiefly important. Heal the Bay – an organization based in Santa Monica, California – has a strong history promoting environmental awareness and advocating for public health through their Beach Report Card program. Over the years they have found that when people are informed about water quality issues, they are more motivated to take care of their environment. In cooperation with students from Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) and funded by EPA’s Urban Waters small grant program, Heal the Bay expanded this initiative to create a River Report Card for the LA River and other freshwater areas where people recreate and swim.
Recognizing the need to provide quality climate change curriculum for public high school students in Yonkers, NY, Groundwork Hudson Valley has created a hands-on, multi-visual curriculum that receives high marks from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Entitled Global, Local, Coastal: Preparing the Next Generation for a Changing Planet, its development was funded by NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program, one of only six grants awarded nationwide.
RiverXchange—a school-based program that supports and supplements Common Core and 21st Century Standards—is designed to introduce water resources concepts to young people using a variety of fun methods that integrate writing, math, science, and physical activity. By interacting with models, reading relevant texts, learning from experts, and going on field trips, students learn about watersheds, river ecosystems, and the importance of water conservation. They also learn how to monitor water quality and calculate their own ecological footprints, then internalize these concepts by writing about them in their own words.
Three projects from different organizations in the eastern United States are using creative methods to educate students about environmental issues in their communities and to empower urban youth to make a difference. While the issues that the communities face are varied, each organization is engaging youth to raise awareness and to create solutions.
El Caño Martin Peña (CMP) is a 3.75-mile-long tidal channel located within the San Juan Bay National Estuary in Puerto Rico, the only tropical estuary within the National Estuary Program. The degraded channel has threatened not only communities’ health, but the ecosystem as well. ENLACE engages in public education activities to promote an understanding of the impacts of environmental degradation, fostering critical consciousness and democratic action to support restoration efforts. The restoration of the estuarine tidal channel will allow for mangroves to flourish and increase biodiversity, improving resilience during storms and providing opportunities for tourism.
Advocating for change starts first with quantifying and documenting the extent of plastics pollution. The NY/NJ Baykeeper study illuminates the high prevalence of plastics pollution within the Harbor Estuary and highlights the importance of both decreasing plastics consumption and increasing disposal awareness.
Service learning is a powerful tool for connecting people and their communities to local parks and natural areas. To celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, the REI Foundation partnered with the National Park Foundation to fund projects that introduce underserved, inner-city youth to their nearby national parks and engage them in service projects to improve them. The project purpose is to foster stewardship among participants, help them to discover opportunities for outdoor recreation, and instill the value of nature and our nations’ parks—both national and local.
In 2012, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) received an EPA Urban Waters Small Grant, sub-granted by the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment, to study the causes of the eutrophic conditions in Lakes Hefner and Overholser and to evaluate which Best Management Practices (BMPs) could significantly reduce the nutrient load affecting water quality in the lakes. Originally, the study focused on identifying BMPs that could be implemented in the lakes themselves. However, it was found that most of the pollution was coming from urban runoff entering the North Canadian River.
In urban settings, stormwater runoff is one of the leading water quality concerns due to limited surface area where water can infiltrate into the soil. Impervious surfaces result in water flowing quickly across pavement and down gutters and sewers rather than dispersing out evenly over the landscape. The farther and faster the water travels, the more contaminants and sediment it picks up along the way.
The Wabash River, which is Indiana’s state river, has a rich economic and cultural history. As a tributary of the Ohio River, it is part of the upper reaches of the 1,245,000-square-mile Mississippi River Basin, and so was a vital navigation and trade route for French traders traveling between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico.
The San Gabriel River drains a 713-mile watershed in the San Gabriel Mountains, flowing as far south as Long Beach, where it enters Alamitos Bay as a tidal river. It shares its watershed with two other major rivers: the Los Angeles and the Santa Ana.
Most people are familiar with archeology as a field that explores ancient civilizations by uncovering artifacts. However, archeology has applications in modern urban locations as well. Cities change quickly, and in the process, the lives and stories of residents—and even whole neighborhoods and rivers—can be buried or substantially altered. Archeology can uncover the stories that never made it to the history books, and can also help communities to discover and tell their own stories and histories.
The Patapsco River flows for 39 miles through central Maryland and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. The last 10 miles of the Patapsco River form an estuary that is home to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Historically, the Inner Harbor was an important seaport and is still an essential component to Baltimore’s economy by being home to one of the city’s largest tourist attractions.
The headwaters of the San Antonio River originate in Bexar County, from which it begins a 240-mile journey through six counties toward San Antonio Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. From Spain’s colonization efforts to the emergence of San Antonio as the second most populous city in Texas, the area’s rich history and culture have been shaped by the San Antonio River.
The Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association (BMW), with members from wastewater agencies, cities and counties, water providers, environmental groups, planning agencies, and recreational interests, believed that if Colorado residents knew how their daily choices affected the watershed, they would be more mindful and actively reduce pollution. In 2012, BMW was awarded an Urban Waters Grant from the EPA to develop and test clean water messages, including Spanish translations, and implement an ongoing messaging campaign.
The Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, located in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the first US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) refuge in the Southwest to be designated an “urban refuge.” With funding from the US EPA Urban Waters Program, Amigos Bravos partnered with area organizations to engage youth directly in water quality monitoring in the Rio Grande and adjacent irrigation ditches. Many of the youth had never seen the river before, much less interacted with it.
The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum explores issues impacting urban contemporary communities. Its approach starts with research and documentation of urban life and history organized around the concerns that are relevant to the largely African American residents in the local river neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where the museum is located; then expands to metropolitan Washington, DC area and to like urban communities. Through its innovative research focus, exhibitions, and education programs on the issue of urban waterways, the museum has actively encouraged community investment and stewardship.
The long-term vision for the Elizabeth River Trail project in Elizabeth, New Jersey is to connect people with the natural environment in the most densely populated region of the country. Through signage and service learning events, residents and visitors will learn about ecological restoration plans for the river and become environmental stewards of this valuable resource. Ultimately, the trail will tie into the regional network of greenways already established and under construction.
Groundwork Anacostia, a “trust” under the umbrella of Groundwork USA, is based in the District of Columbia’s Ward 7, which has the longest portion of riverbank—including four out of the five tributaries that feed the Anacostia River. The neighborhood has a large amount of green space in the form of National Park Service (NPS) historical preserves, Civil War sites, and city parkland. Groundwork Anacostia’s main focus has been to improve this parkland, as well as local derelict lots and vacant land, in order to improve quality of life and access for neighborhood residents, while also offering innovative education and job training programs for area youth.
The Duwamish is Seattle’s only river. It is a 5.5 mile long Superfund site that flows through Seattle’s Duwamish Valley – a highly developed urban and industrial center south of downtown. In 2014, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition Technical Advisory Group (DRCC/TAG) founded the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps (DVYC) with support from the Forest Service’s Urban Waters Federal Partnership. The DVYC supports environmental improvement projects identified by residents in the Duwamish River Valley. With a focus on urban forestry, river restoration, and green infrastructure, the program is equal parts environmental science, job skills training, stewardship, and hands-on restoration.
In 2008, many Utah organizations came together to develop a long-range plan for the Jordan River that laid out a vision for a revitalized river corridor. The Jordan River Commission was created to spearhead this plan, and it has been successful in building partnerships with organizations now working together to implement this vision. These collaborations have led to a new public appreciation for the river corridor as a recreational amenity and opportunity for conservation, environmental education, and community building.
Few environmental projects focus community attention as dramatically as those that seek to create (or retrieve) parks and trails along urban waterways. The Groundwork network has achieved significant success on such projects, including the Saw Mill River Daylighting Park in Yonkers, NY; the Spicket River Greenway in Lawrence, MA; the Elizabeth River Greenway in Elizabeth, NJ; and the Mill Creek Greenway in Cincinnati.
Youth from different areas in Los Angeles are creating positive change along the LA River through the River Ambassador program; a youth leadership and education program of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). MRCA wanted to try out a program that was focused solely on the LA River and the factors impacting the health of the river. With EPA Urban Waters funding, MRCA was able to make this a reality.
Momentum for improving the Mystic River got started in 1969 when various agencies and local planning departments published a report outlining plans to tackle the high levels of pollution and improve recreational opportunities on the Mystic River Reservation, a publicly-owned nature preserve. By the early 1980’s, greenways with bike and pedestrian trails started to be installed.
Centennial Creek, a tributary of the Salinas River, begins east of the City of Paso Robles, California and flows into the Salinas River on the west side of town. The Salinas River flows into the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This is significant because any improvements made to Centennial Creek, though miles away, will positively impact the marine sanctuary.
Flooding in South Wilmington neighborhood is a severe and well documented issue. South Wilmington is situated in a 100-year flood plain and surrounded on three sides by the Christina River. Knowing the extent of these issues, the City of Wilmington applied for and received funding in 2013 to repurpose three brownfields sites into a wetlands park in order to alleviate flooding.
The Citizen-led Monitoring of Urban Wetland Restoration in New Orleans creates active wetland advocates by placing technology into community members’ hands, especially in those of low-income Lake Pontchartrain residents. This effort was supported in part by a $50,000 Urban Waters Small Grant funded by EPA.
Baltimore, Maryland, home to over 30,000 vacant and abandoned lots and numerous economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, is also home to some of the most innovative job creation strategies and vacant lot reclamation projects in the nation.
In 2014 The University of Arizona (UA) received support from the U.S EPA in the form of funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).
This funding was used to supplement the restoration efforts conducted through Project WET; a project of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension – Maricopa County. With this NFWF funding, UA was able to weave Monarch Butterfly habitat creation into their existing program.
Heartland Conservation Alliance (HCA) was created as an alliance of diverse partners who share a vision and work collectively to conserve natural areas, connect people to nature and convene partners. Their mission is creating multiple benefits for people by focusing on projects that save Kansas City’s valuable natural resources and give them back to benefit the community—“ecological democracy.”
The Chattahoochee River drains more than 8,500 square miles and is the most heavily used water resource in Georgia. The river starts as a cold-water mountain stream and flows 430 miles to its confluence with the Flint River at Lake Seminole and the Florida border, traveling through the cities of Atlanta and Columbus, GA along the way.
In 2014 the Blue River Watershed Association (BRWA) received $59,940 from EPA’s Urban Waters Program to work with its partner agencies to engage eight teams of urban middle school students, four teams this spring and four teams in the fall. BRWA will engage the youth in water quality monitoring studies, data collection, and community presentations and projects.
Village Creek, which flows through the heart of Birmingham, was once considered one of the most polluted streams in Alabama. Today, thanks to the Freshwater Land Trust, and with significant support from the U.S. EPA, there is new hope. The Freshwater Land Trust has gathered together community, non-profit, city and business leaders who are working together to transform Village Creek into a community asset.
Twenty years ago, in some inner-city stretches of Mill Creek, the only living things you could find were blood worms, sludge worms, and leeches. In the summertime, fish kills were common. Carp that ventured into the stream from the Ohio River would flop onto the stream banks and die. Many species of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife
vanished from the river corridor for over 100 years because their habitat and food sources had been destroyed by intense urbanization.
While ECO-Action serves as the lead for the project there are many partners working together to address stormwater and combined sewer overflow impact on Proctor Creek. Green infrastructure concepts and principals are being infused into the Clark Atlanta University dual engineering courses. This marks a milestone in the efforts led by ECO-Action to increase awareness among faculty, staff, and students about the importance of green infrastructure and the type of positive impacts these practices and principals can have at a local level.
Funded by an EPA Urban Waters Small Grant, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association and the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council teamed up with the Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Mgmt. and other partners to develop a fish community monitoring program for Rhode Island’s wadeable urban rivers and streams. Program goals are to assess changes to habitat health, target locations for water quality restoration initiatives, engage community members in citizen science initiatives, and provide water quality information to the public.
In 2012 the Pollution Prevention Institute at Kansas State University was awarded a $60,000 urban waters small grant from EPA, part of which was used to conduct water quality monitoring in the river channel in addition to engaging the public in the removal of invasive species along the river bank. Intended outcomes of their project include establishing an understanding of the pollutants present in the river and helping create a more informed public which understands the importance and process of maintaining the integrity of the river channel.
Once known as the most polluted lake in the nation, Onondaga Lake has received significant attention over the last several decades. The lake’s upper water’s have undergone tremendous improvement because of efforts to remediate industrial and municipal pollution. Improvements to the county’s wastewater treatment plant as well as the reduction of combined sewer overflows (CSO) through the use of both grey and green infrastructure have led to the resurgence of the lake’s fishery.
In 2013 and after 12 years in the making, EPA released its Proposed Cleanup Plan for the Superfund site, starting the clock on a 105-day public review and comment period. This highly technical document recommended a mix of technologies for addressing the river’s toxic sediments and meeting the four objectives of the cleanup, which include protecting the health of people who consume seafood.
In 2012 Groundwork Denver received funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 319 Nonpoint Source funds. With EPA’s funding Groundwork Denver has successfully created a non-point source watershed plan for the Lower Bear Creek.
Water quality is not the most zany or attractive topic in which to engage citizens. They know it’s important, but how, really, can they affect change? The Galveston Bay Foundation has launched a successful suite of programs —matching playful and provacative messaging with down-to-earth behaviors—that will empower local citizens to improve water quality in the bay.
Each model site is a place where neighborhood surface waters (streams and lakes), receives water runoff from storms (stormwater), and becomes an outdoor learning site for investigations and actions by students from nearby schools. Thus Keep It Clean (KIC) – Neighborhood Environmental Trio (NET) means a program focusing on clean water (KIC), each with a school, park (preferably with a recreation center), and an accessible body of water or waterway within a few minutes walk of each other (NET).
In a city like New Orleans, community is everything. Walks down the street, one can simply speak to everyone passing by, and everyone would keep an eye out for one another. Everyone was each other’s neighbor. Eight years ago, prior to Hurricane Katrina, walking around the Lower Ninth Ward meant passing several homes on every block.
Plaster Creek is a 14 mile-long stream that drains a watershed covering approximately 58 square miles, in metropolitan Grand Rapids, Michigan. The creek initially flows through agricultural lands, then commercial and residential areas, and finally an industrial zone and low-income neighborhoods before emptying into the Grand River.
In 2012, the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments and the Merrimack River Watershed Council received a $60,000 EPA Urban Waters Small Grant to create a stormwater education program for municipal staff, local officials and community members.
The City of Newark was built along the banks of the Passaic River. In 1983, the Ironbound neighborhood was one of the first in the nation to be designated as a “superfund site” for dioxin along the Passaic River.
Ellerbe Creek flows out of the heart of Durham, North Carolina through the community on its 14 mile path to Falls Lake Reservoir, a drinking water source for more than half a million people. It offers a refuge for people and nature from the stresses of city life across its compact 37 square mile watershed. The entire creek has been designated as impaired since 1998 for ecological/biological integrity. Falls Lake Reservoir has similarly been identified as an impaired water body due to excessive levels of nitrates and phosphates associated with poorly managed stormwater and failing waste water systems.
The Garden is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to spark a passion for plants and cultivate an understanding of their vital relationship to people and the environment.” Their commitment extends beyond the gardens and into the community through various projects and programs that work to engage people in learning about the importance of a healthy environment.
The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, started in 2011, has provided a formal, coordinated effort to restore the river. Cities along the entire length of the river have seen the benefits of partnership projects with improved green space and water quality.