What’s Your Watershed?

Do you know what watershed you live in? On May 6, EcoLogic hosted New England International Donors (NEID), the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), and the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) at our Cambridge office for a lively discussion about solutions to the global water crisis. NEID organized the event as part of their ongoing Pathways to Change Series. Before the conversation began, attendees were invited to introduce themselves—and name the watershed they lived in. Fortunately for those who didn’t know, local watershed expert Julie Wood of the CRWA was there to set us straight. (For the record, EcoLogic’s office in Cambridge, MA, is located in the Charles River watershed!)

NEID water event on May 6

Attendees included representatives from EcoLogic, New England International Donors, the Charles River Watershed Association, and the Environmental Grantmakers Association

International development and human rights expert Daniel Moss spoke first, setting the stage for a conversation about watershed protection with a visual exploration of the types of projects that can be implemented to improve water access and quality for both rural and urban communities in the developing world. These can include a range of initiatives—including working with households on filters and latrines, helping local communities with water delivery systems, supporting NGOs who coordinate with local governments to protect freshwater sources, or advocating nationally for the human right to water. As attendees discussed during the event, none of these approaches on their own can fully address the global water crisis—which is why it was a valuable opportunity to bring a range of projects and perspectives together.

EcoLogic’s Executive Director, Barbara Vallarino, spoke about EcoLogic’s work to protect and restore watersheds in Central America and Mexico. EcoLogic’s water work takes place mostly “upstream”—that is, focused on protecting water at the source, which helps keep streams flowing healthy and clean. Barbara touched on examples that illustrated how EcoLogic’s core focus on community-driven conservation has helped us work with local people to conserve watersheds in several of our project sites, including in northern Honduras; Totonicapán, Guatemala; and Oaxaca, Mexico.

The Charles River Watershed worked in the Dominican Republic to clean up water

The Charles River Watershed Association worked with the city of Jarabacoa, in the Dominican Republic, to clean and restore their watershed (Photo: Julie Wood, CRWA)

Julie Wood, who manages CRWA’s science program and serves as project manager for CRWA’s Smart Sewering, Twinning, and Climate Change Adaptation Projects, brought the conversation back to the Boston area. The Charles River—whose watershed is home to not only EcoLogic’s office, but 35 towns and over a million residents—was one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. “When the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency began giving the river annual ‘report cards’ in 1995, the Charles was so polluted its first grade was a D,” Wood chuckled. “But thanks to the CRWA, the Charles River has been cleaned up so well that it now gets an A-.”

Wood also discussed the CRWA’s landmark partnership with Jarabacoa, in the Dominican Republic—a city located in a highly biodiverse landscape whose watershed, like the Charles, has been degraded by urban pollution. The CRWA has been able to translate much of their own experience cleaning up the Charles to help Jarabacoa restore its own urban streams, which has included running a successful public education campaign about the value of rivers. It was interesting to note that in contrast to EcoLogic’s “upstream” focus on protecting water at the source, the CRWA’s success has come mostly from restoring rivers and improving access “downstream,” in the towns and cities where people who rely on those water sources live. Because water is vital to life—and because threats to clean water for all come from many different angles—a combination of approaches is necessary to ensure a healthy future for people and planet.

The event was an inspiring opportunity to connect the dots between different water conservation projects across the globe (and in our own backyard), and to brainstorm about further opportunities to scale up the work that EcoLogic and the CRWA are doing to address water issues at a larger scale in the future. Our thanks to the NEID Planning Committee – Jessica Brown, Daniel Moss, Rachel Pohl, Maggi Alexander, and Sarah Young. Our heartfelt thanks go out again to NEID, CRWA, and EGA for joining us for a fantastic conversation, and we look forward to continued dialogue on these vital topics.

In the meantime, we invite you to find out what watershed you live in and learn more about where your water comes from! You can also read more about EcoLogic’s approach to watershed conservation in Central America and Mexico by clicking here. And for those who couldn’t join us on May 6, we hope to see you next time!

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