Virtual River Rally 2021: What’s in Store for Urban Waters?


Last year, River Network ambitiously pioneered a three-week virtual version of the annual River Rally. In 2021, Rally will again be a virtual experience, this time with a shorter, four-day program from May 17-20.

Despite the concise schedule, it is still jam-packed with great material. Just like we did last year, we’ve compiled some highlights from the program: workshops presented by Urban Waters Learning Network members, others of particular interest to those who work in cities, and a few here and there that are more broadly relevant to our work, encouraging us to push past our borders and city walls. A word of caution, however: this is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are a whole bunch of other great workshops in the more comprehensive River Rally program.

Normally, the Urban Waters Learning Forum, held the first day of Rally before the regular program begins, offers an opportunity for Urban Waters Learning Network practitioners to network with each other and set the agenda for conversations on the most pressing topics. This time, we encourage you to network with your peers by attending their workshops and engaging in lively discussions. You’ll also have a chance to meet this year’s Urban Waters Learning Network Award winners on Tues, May 18, at the annual Awards celebration. This will be a great opportunity to learn from Urban Waters leaders around the country.

Tues 5/18 – 5-6:00pm ET


The UWLN awards, sponsored by the US EPA, celebrate significant achievements of individuals who have improved urban waterways and revitalized the neighborhoods around them. This year’s awardees include:

Carrie Reeves, Chris Merson and Rebecca Reeves, San Antonio River Authority: Signature Award

Dr. Bernard Singleton, Dillard University: Environmental Education Expert Award

Bianette Perez, Little Manila Rising: Youth Leadership Expert Award

Friends of the Rio de Flag: Environmental Justice & Equity Expert Award

Moderator: Adi Nochur, Groundwork USA

NOTE: For those who are not registered for the rest of Rally, this event will be broadcast on Facebook Live; please follow @RiverNetwork.

Read more about this year’s award winners.

Below, we’ve highlighted a number of workshops that feature presentations by your Urban Waters peers, or which are of particular interest to those who work in cities. We’ve listed the live events first, followed by pre-recorded sessions you can access once you’ve registered for Rally. Please note that this list is NOT exhaustive, and doesn’t include the keynote speakers, evening social events, and many other opportunities — so we encourage you to check out the full River Rally program. Please note that except for the UWLN Awards, you must register for River Rally to attend all events. Without further ado — we’ll see you at Rally!

Select Live Sessions

Blue Art Collective: Art, Water, and Social Justice in a Digital Era

This workshop explores two sensory art mechanisms, music and movement, for bringing communities together, over online platforms or in person, to protect local waterways. Join us to continue the conversation about art, water, and social justice and get your creative juices flowing! All ages welcome. Sarah Davidson, Blue Art Collective; Kevin Jeffery, MRV Architects; Erin O’Grady, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay 

Connecting the Dots: Racial Equity, Water Conservation and Organizational Culture 

Join us as we explore the connections between racial equity and water conservation work, examining how racial inequities surface in the context of water issues. We’ll also look inward at how markers of dominant white culture show up in our organizations and how we can use counternarratives to challenge the assumptions of dominant culture and advance equity and inclusion. Darryl Haddock, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance; Jennifer Arnold, Reciprocity Consulting, LLC

Learners to Leaders: Environmental Justice Literacy Curriculum 

Through engagement with interactive activities from Groundwork USA’s Learners to Leaders: EJ Literacy Curriculum, participants will build their own Water Justice Timeline, and learn directly from youth who are using environmental justice literacy to transform neglected waterways. Neambe Leadon, Groundwork Denver; Maria Brodine, Groundwork USA 

Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: Building an Ecosystem of Change

Today, more than 2.2 million Americans live without basic access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Convened by DigDeep, this workshop will focus on ongoing WASH access challenges in the US and will highlight a couple “hotspot” communities working to fill the water gap. George McGraw, Shanna Yazzie, and Bob McKinney, Dig Deep Right to Water Project 

How to Be a Lead and Copper Rule Watchdog

The lead and copper rule is a very complex regulation that can be challenging for professional and resident advocates alike to understand. This workshop will train attendees how to be effective watchdogs of their own state and water system. Nick Leonard and Erin Mette, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

Increasing Equitable Water Infrastructure Investment in Your Community

Learn about and practice using tools in River Network’s new Equitable Water Infrastructure Investment “Toolkit.” We’ll look at how water infrastructure is funded; how to advocate for equitable and sustainable infrastructure funding; and how to address water affordability and prevent water shutoffs. The workshop will help participants to find, and leverage, common ground between advocates and water utilities. We will look at affordability, as well as how the major funding streams for water projects flow from the federal government to states, and then to local communities. April Ingle, Sheyda Esnaashari, and Katherine Baer, River Network; Stacey Berahzer, IB Environmental

Promoting Equity in Lead Service Line Replacement Programs

Drawing on case examples and resources from its online toolkit, the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative will share examples of how communities have approached public outreach and tapped funding to assure more equitable outcomes from LSL replacement efforts. Lynn Thorp, Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund

Federal Policy Roundtable

Get updates on the latest federal water policy news, learn ways to engage, and hear about water policy developments happening at the state and local levels around the country. We will also have a spotlight discussion on the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act and how we can organize to pass the most comprehensive approach to improving our water systems and helping ensure that everyone in the US has access to safe, clean, affordable, public water. Kristine Oblock, Environment America; April Ingle, River Network; Julian Gonzalez, EarthJustice; Rianna Eckel, Food & Water Action

Storytelling & Resonance: Creating a Culture of Empathy and Support

Creating a culture of empathy and support is an important tool to combat isolation and individualism in our organizations and movements, especially during COVID-19. Join River Network’s 2020 Emerging Leader, Megan Nguyen, as she creates a space for attendees to share stories and listen to others’ perspectives. Come away from this meeting with a better understanding of the value of connecting through storytelling and resonance, and how these tools can be weaved into your advocacy and outreach work. Megan Nguyen, California Trout

The Five Myths of Board Leadership

This workshop will help you navigate some of the common myths and misconceptions on what it means to be a board member; how to develop, recruit, and retain effective board members; and the vital role the Executive Director plays. Amy Zola and Allison Elder, San Antonio River Authority

On Demand (Pre-Recorded) Sessions

Strategies for Equity in Restoration & Stewardship 

This session features experts from American Rivers (PA), Plaster Creek Stewards (MI), and Friends of the Chicago River (IL) in sharing projects focused on stewarding land and water with respect to the communities they intersect with. American Rivers’ focus on equitable flood management, Plaster Creek Stewards’ restoration of an urban wetland, and Friends of the Chicago River’s benefits of a Blue-Green Chicago River Corridor all highlight the importance of working alongside communities when it comes to resilience and restoration projects. Deanna Geelhoed, Plaster Creek Stewards-Calvin University; Eileen Shader, American Rivers; Adam Flickinger, Friends of the Chicago River

Urban Water Connections 

The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance (Seattle, WA) and Openlands (Chicago, IL) will be sharing their stories of success in connecting urban communities to their local waterways. Puget Soundkeeper Alliance will showcase a water quality and environmental justice initiative completed in partnership with Unleash the Brilliance, a youth mentoring group in the Green-Duwamish Watershed. Openlands will share the development of an African American Heritage Water Trail that highlights nationally significant history in an underserved area of Chicago, with a discussion of how water trails inspire greater equity in river access and community resiliency. Both of these projects focus on developing youth as ambassadors of their local urban waterways and including the greater community in learning and conversations about water through youth-centric programs. Lillian Holden, Openlands; Laura Barghusen, Openlands; Anna Bachmann, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance; Terrell Dorsey, Unleash the Brilliance

Tribal and Agency Water Collaboration Across Nations 

California’s working to integrate two new Tribal Beneficial Uses into the Ocean Plan and Regional Basin Plan Amendments all while the San Francisco Bay Delta is being threatened. This workshop will discuss a more concise process that will better serve communities and we believe partnerships are key. Sherri Norris, California Indian Environmental Alliance (CIEA) Flowing with Community: Just Community-Based Participatory Research Participants will learn the value and implementation of community-based participatory research (CBPR) in building water resilient communities. LVEJO and CNT use CBPR to address concerns of urban flooding in South Lawndale, a frontline community in Chicago with a large Latinx immigrant population. Nancy Meza and Brenda Santoyo, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization; Cyatharine Alias, Center for Neighborhood Technology

Blue Index: Reimagining Urban Waterscape Design for Community Equity and Wellbeing

Blue Index utilizes public photo stations and assessments to connect people to water, collect qualitative data, and capture a visual record of change over time. This workshop explores how Blue Index applies to outdoor space design and planning to increase community equity and wellbeing. Kevin Jeffery and Sarah Davidson, Blue Index 

How’s My Waterway and Other EPA Water Tools

This workshop will highlight the recent enhancements to EPA’s How’s My Waterway tool, and feature the Watershed Index Online and the Recovery Potential Screening Tool. These EPA tools allow for a systematic comparison of watersheds based on characteristics relevant to water quality and successful restoration and protection. New features of these EPA tools include social and stressor indicators that explore topics of community demographics, environmental justice, watershed health and current/future watershed vulnerability. With knowledge of these tools, and the data that drives them, citizens can plan for more resilient communities in the future. Kiki Schneider and Miranda ChienHale, US EPA, Office of Water 

Keep the Gulf Clean: A Regional Collaborative to Promote Trash Free Watersheds

Groundwork trusts use an innovative approach to address environmental issues, starting with how human communities, especially urban and underserved communities, experience environmental neglect, contamination, and isolation on the front lines. They then work to establish a longterm presence, elevate community priorities, and ensure that participants and stakeholders receive direct benefits from the work. Todd Reynolds, Groundwork New Orleans; Megan Davis, Groundwork Dallas; Barja Wilson, Groundwork Mobile County

Ensuring One Water Delivers for Healthy Waterways The new “One Water” approach to maximizing urban water supplies may threaten rivers if protections for environmental flows are not baked in to watersupply planning. Learn how to make sure river protections are part of your city’s water future. protections are part of your city’s water future. Jennifer Walker, National Wildlife Federation; Myron Hess, Tributary Consulting, Law Office of Myron Hess

Building Trust Between Communities and Utilities for an Equitable Future

Learn how water utilities are engaging with atrisk populations to build trust. Cleveland’s Water Champion program, which aims to avoid shutoffs, will be featured. Attendees will be introduced to trust building programs, learn to identify effective practices, and apply learnings to their own work. Amy Weinfurter, Caroline Koch, and Georgia Beesmyer, WaterNow Alliance; April Ingle, River Network; Jacqueline Muhammad, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Sustainable Watershed Management Funding in Michigan: A Statewide Collaborative Approach

West Michigan partners will share a reliable funding source model addressing conservation, restoration, and preservation programs that are underfunded. This funding will allow property owners to invest in and contribute to regional watershed improvements and building capacity of local organizations. Wendy Ogilvie, Grand Valley Metro Council; Kelly Goward, Macatawa Area Coordinating Council

Local Advocacy Success Stories

Advocacy efforts at the local scale can result in effective policy change, increased community engagement, and improvements to watershed health. Hear from advocates across the country as they share stories of how they energized activists, neighbors, community members, and the media; utilized collaborative approaches to amplify their efforts; and how they used policy, regulations, and public support to improve their watersheds. David Sligh, Wild Virginia; Jack Mullen, Friends of the Mahoning River; Tim Laramore, The North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy; Leah Holloway, Milwaukee Riverkeeper; Kelly Knutson, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed 

Adapting Clean Water Act Implementation to Climate Change 

Unprecedented rainstorms, stronger/more frequent hurricanes, flash flooding, higher temperatures, drought conditions, and wildfires have an impact on the management of pollution and protection of public health. Join us to hear how Clean Water Act implementation must adapt. Gayle Killam, Water Policy Pathways; Matt Rota, Healthy Gulf

Eyes on the Water: Increase Access and Diverse Participation in Your Water Monitoring Program

Does your volunteer water monitoring program lack diversity? Are you looking to create opportunities that are equitable and inclusive? Learn how Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper utilizes the Water Reporter Platform to provide varied options for community members to engage. Elizabeth Cute, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper

What’s in the Water: Building a Community Science Monitoring Program in the Anacostia Watershed

Anacostia Riverkeeper started one of the first volunteer water quality monitoring programs in the DC region. ARK and their volunteers monitor 29 sites across the DC/MD region. Focusing on E. Coli, the goal is to engage residents by providing timely water quality data from May to September each year. Robbie O’Donnell and Olivia Anderson, Anacostia Riverkeeper

Let’s Talk Trash: Addressing Floatable Pollution in the Bronx and East Harlem, NYC

Floatable trash is a major pollutant in NYC waters. This workshop will feature groups active in the Bronx & Harlem Rivers UWFP that have developed scalable methods for assessing, removing, and mitigating trash. Best practices, lessons learned, and successful engagement strategies will be discussed. Christian Murphy, Bronx River Alliance; Rosana Da Silva, Hudson River Foundation/New YorkNew Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program; Chris Girgenti, Randall’s Island Park Alliance; John Butler, Van Cortlandt Park Alliance

Leadership, Stewardship, and Community Engagement: Concretizing the Green Team Model

Since launching in 2017, Groundwork Southcoast’s Green Team, who are youth employees that do hands-on work in and adjacent to our urban waters, has had an impressive retention rate of over 90%. This workshop is designed to share the work of evaluating and concretizing the model. Maura Ramsey, Groundwork Southcoast

Paddling Upstream Without a Boat: Collaborating Is the Best Strategy

Participants will learn to see the inter-connectedness of issues and the need to collaborate to find resolutions. As nonprofits reflect the greater society, they must also make the connections to get out of their own “silos” to make our communities healthy, safe, fair places for all. Michele Colopy, LEAD for Pollinators, Inc.

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