Local watershed organizations join up to form statewide group

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2000

Water flows downhill and people arrange themselves along waterways. We accumulate in larger and larger quantities as the rivers make their ways through the countryside; homesteads becoming settlements developing into towns, cities and metropolises. It's not difficult to realize that there is always somebody upstream and downstream of us. We are both the recipients and donators of the water's cargo, drinking what comes from above and passing along our influences to those below.

Political will also flows in two directions; energy, funding and policy direction emanate from state or national centers, but specific application, guidance and preparedness are locally generated. National and state interests appear to be imposed, but community and neighborhood organizations are really the engines that drive ``on the ground'' results.

Grassroots organizers have influenced our country's progression from the pioneering efforts to make a place in the wild world to our current state of integrating ourselves into the natural systems.

Our community watershed organization, the Mendenhall Watershed Partnership, is concerned with local situations: arresting the deterioration of habitat, controlling sedimentation of the streams by erosion from development and residential activities, and preservation of the finest of the local waterways. The work of 30 organizations and hundreds of individuals won national recognition for the work on Duck Creek and the rehabilitation of the ponds by the Nazarene Church. Influencing our local landscape is like gardening in a bigger yard: it takes more tools and greater effort, but the results are commensurate with the scale.

I attended a watershed session at last week's Forum on the Environment and was stunned to hear that there are 173 watershed groups in Alaska. Several are urban, but the majority are organized in the much less densely populated regions of the state. The local influences of waterways and the natural connections that residence along a common drainage brings to people, make neighbors out of families hundreds of miles apart.

The scale of watersheds and the numbers of such entities in our state make watershed organizations perfect models for the grassroots democratic organizations we all recognize. This pattern of neighbors aligning together to address a common situation is our heritage. This learned behavior leads to more involvement in the local levels; the old adage about thinking globally and acting locally is right on the money.

People have asked if the Mendenhall is the only waterbody served by this group, and whether they should form their own groups to deal with North Douglas or Lemon Creek problems. Come to the next meeting of the Watershed Partnership, Feb. 23, at Floyd Dryden Library, and suggest a subcommittee be formed to address your concerns. There is no sense duplicating efforts, and the groundwork has been laid for good interactions with agencies and elected bodies.

This year is going to see some exciting projects in our area. Montana Creek is going to have its trail rebuilt and the streambank area will be planted in habitat-enhancing vegetation. One of the old gravel extraction ponds that make up the Dredge Lake area is going to be deepened to develop good overwintering habitat for fish and discussions are underway as to the final appearance of the project. Restoration work on Duck Creek itself has been funded; much of the work will be performed this year, timed to miss the fish migrations.

The Partnership will have a booth at the Juneau Homebuilders Home Show next weekend. Materials will be available for those who want to develop wetland areas or enhance wildlife habitat on their own property, as well as planting guidelines for those who live along waterways. Erosion control and runoff are best addressed before they become problems, and draining sensitive landscaping is the best way to approach these troubles.

People who are considering earthwork projects can start preparing now; willow cuttings can be gathered and stored, buried in sawdust or gravel until they start to root. Look at the state of Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Web site (www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/FISH.GAME/habitat/hab_home.htm), or go to the library for a copy of the brochure ``Guidelines for Bank Stabilization on the Mendenhall River.''

These resources were prepared for the riverbank, but the same procedures will apply to any spot that will lose soil due to erosion. They also contain information about funding available to homeowners or groups who want to undertake an erosion control project. If you want any more information, contact me.

These watershed groups join garden clubs, plant societies and neighborhood associations in empowering us to work on our regional landscape, the one we all share.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and, along with Margaret Tharp, owns Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.

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