Thursday, April 5, 2012

Risks and Opportunities in Urban Watersheds

The following are notes on the Risks and Opportunities in Urban Watersheds Panel that I attended on April 5, 2012 with my Environmental Case Studies class.

Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) Panel

MODERATOR - F.N Scatena, Chair, Department of Earth & Environmental Science
"Community involvement in establishing Environmental Stream Flows:
experiences from UNESCO-HELP projects"

Jon Capacasa, Director, Water Protection Division, EPA Region III
“The ‘Forgotten River’ Transformed to National Urban Waters Restoration Model- Lessons from the Anacostia River Watershed Restoration, Washington, DC”

Valessa Souter-Kline, Philadelphia Water Department
“Watershed Partnerships in Philadelphia: Opportunities for Community Involvement” 

Phillip Rodbell, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station
"Creating the great outdoors in the urban landscape" 

One learns with the community, defines problems and helps solve them.  All seniors in Wharton used to have to work on a community problem and write a thesis on it. Wharton was founded as a social science center.

Amy Gutmann has promised local and global engagement by the community.

F.N. Scatena 

Why a Watersheds Focus?
-Physically unites the community by conservation of mass and energy
-Upstream and downstream interactions - not only upstream effecting downstream, but the opposite also happens
-Multiple uses that unite communities: water supply, waste removal, recreation

Water Security Threat Index indicates that water is an urban problem.

Environmental Stressors in Urban Watersheds

  • Atmosphere
    • Air quality, ozone, asthma
    • urban heat islands
  • Hydrosphere
    • drinking water quantity and quality
    • storm water management; flooding and CSO
  • Biosphere
    • waste management
    • energy and food security
    • health and recreation
    • increased population in cities 

Urban Watersheds have Opportunities
  • Multiple partners / watershed groups
    • government, municipal, state, federal
    • community and NGOs
    • industry
  • Traditional watershed based community service
    • cleanups
    • planting and restoration projects
    • educational activities
    • community water development projects 
Metrics of Success
  • Short-term accounting methods
    • number of students and direct participants (16,000!)
    • number of miles of rive cleaned, tons of trash removed, trees planted
  • intermediate change
    • impact of cleanups 
    • success of restoration
  • long term (sustainable, transformational) change
    • adaptation of technology 

HELP: Hydrology for the Environment, Life, and Policy
-Came from lack of discourse between scientists, activists, community members, etc.

Major issues

  • Water development
    • people vs. industry vs. nature
  • water quality
    • point and non-point source
    • storm water management
  • Land use and climate change
    • local vs. regional influences 

Exciting Outreach programs

  • Visitor centers: forest service, nature reserves
  • educational programs: K to grey, high schools, university
  • Public outreach: earth day, etc. 
HELP user groups
  1. Natural resource managers
  2. researchers and educators
  3. local and regional citizen groups
  4. municipalities
  5. technocrats (developers, engineers, water treatment operators, etc)
  6. "S" in ABCS is not just schools, c is not only children 
Focus: Linking scientists and managers 
Water extracting permits - including nature...

Steps for UNESCO HELP Program
  1. Workshop with Agency Directors
  2. Presentations at Professional Societies (monthly meetings)
  3. Technical workshops with local municipalities
  4. Synthesis Publications

Urban Waters

  • The "forgotten river" transformed to national urban waters restoration model 
  • Anacostia Watershed (DC/MD) - it was the dumping ground 
  • Challenges
    • slow flowing, shallow
    • 85% of sediments trapped
    • Forgotten in shadows of higher profile clean water act successes of Potomac River cleanup
    • natural filters lost - over 90% of historic wetlands are gone
    • High sediment rates
    • Fish health and degraded habitat - 50-60% fish tumor rate from toxic sediment 
    • sewer system overflows 
    • flooding is an issue because of development 
    • CSO
    • Persistent trash problems
    • Aging infrastructure
    • legacy toxics 
  • Goals
    • Engage, improve, revitalize, connect
  • Approach
    • focus on drainage area
    • think of all stressors
    • community based engagement
    • governance structure
    • strategically address goals 
  • DC now charges 5 cents per plastic bag!
  • 1st Superfund NPL Site listing was a river
Take Home Messages:
No longer the "forgotten river"
There is outstanding potential for these rivers to become great assets to the community 
Results do come about (even if it's slow) 
Economic driver is inherent 


I didn't have time to stay for more of the lecture, but what i did hear was very interesting. 

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