Residents diving into water courses: Local watershed projects flow to Sound, beyond

CHIMACUM — Like rain falling in the mountains, collecting in rivulets and flowing into streams that flow into the sea, concerns about water quality and water rights have been coalescing in the pool of public consciousness.

Now they have an outlet: two water courses, designed for small-group study and discussion, that have originated below the slopes of the Olympic Mountains in east Jefferson County.

The first, a course covering regional watersheds, was tested by four pilot groups in the county during the past year and a half and is being rolled out in four states this spring.

Sound focus

The second, focusing on the Puget Sound watershed, is currently being piloted after the regional version drew the attention of Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency established to preserve and protect the Sound.

“They liked it so much, they asked Linda and Pat to ‘Puget Sound-ize’ it,” said Darcy McNamara, a Washington State University Extension staff member.

Linda Smith is a special projects consultant for the WSU Extension in Port Hadlock, where she works with Pat Pearson, water quality educator.

McNamara coordinates the Beach Watcher program, whose volunteers were recruited to suggest and critique material for inclusion in the course workbooks.

Divided into seven sessions, both courses cover basic information about how watersheds work, the costs and impact of water consumption, laws and regulations pertaining to water rights and challenges to water quality.

The challenge for Pearson and Smith: choosing material that would not be loaded or weighted in any one direction.

“The course is designed so that people anywhere on the political spectrum, anywhere on the belief spectrum, can be comfortable sitting down and talking about water issues,” Pearson said.

About half the information was used in the Puget Sound version, which a local group of people are taking as a pilot project starting last Wednesday.

Led by Kevin Clark, who took the regional course, the pilot group of people first filled out pre-course surveys to determine the level of knowledge about their local watershed.

“One theme is that water runs through the well-being of the community,” Clark said, “and I think that community includes non-human beings, too. All creatures need water. Every living thing needs water.”

The idea for the water courses was precipitated by Smith, who lives in Port Townsend.

Smith was familiar with water laws on the East Coast, Pearson said, but wanted to know more about water rights and issues in her new watershed.

Having taken Northwest Earth Institute courses and liking the format of neighbors and friends meeting in homes, Smith asked if there were any courses addressing water quality.

Birth of a project

Learning there were none, she approached Pearson, WSU’s representative on the Region 10 Pacific Northwest Water Team.

Pearson applied for a grant to create a study guide using the Northwest Earth Institute format with the help of Smith, Bill Wise, Barb Laski, Jaya Banwell, Richard Dandridge and Loretta Atkins.

Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency through water team, the regional course was written to be a template adaptable for use in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

“In May and June, Linda and I are traveling to Idaho and Montana to train extension staff to use the regional course,” Pearson said.

The WSU Extension staff was one of the test groups for the regional version, Pearson said, which sparked a level of discussion she hadn’t experienced in the nine years she has been there.

The course book is now being put online so that anyone can download it and use it to start a discussion group, she said.

The same will happen with the Puget Sound version once pilot groups have used and reviewed it.

“It’s like a book club with a through line, a theme,” McNamara said of the format.

Engaging community

People who met in the regional course pilot groups are taking it a step farther, Pearson said, by looking for ways to engage the community in the discussion.

One possibility under consideration, she said, is holding an environmental film festival.

Other watershed-related projects happening in the community: oyster seed planting at Shine and the installation of signs to identify rain gardens, which reduce runoff, that were installed by Port Townsend City Hall, at Point Hudson across from the Northwest Maritime Center and along Upper Sims way in conjunction with street improvement work.

The signs were purchased with a grant from the WSU/Jefferson County Master Gardeners.

McNamara invites people who want to get involved in watershed protection in a hands-on way to consider becoming a Beach Watcher.

The 2011 training starts March 1.

Orientation today

She is giving an orientation on the program at 2 p.m. today at the WSU Extension office, 201 W. Patison St., off Rhody Drive in Port Hadlock.

Beach Watcher training sessions run twice-weekly through March 31, with participants receiving 80 hours of instruction by local and regional experts in the classroom and in the field, and another 20 hours of advanced training during the year.

In exchange, Beach Watchers put in 100 hours of volunteer work with partner organizations like the Port Townsend Marine Science Center over a two-year period.

To apply, phone McNamara at 360-379-5610, ext. 230, or e-mail darcym@jefferson.wsu.edu.

McNamara, who has a master’s degree in forestry from the University of Washington’s Urban Horticulture Center, also coordinates Shore Stewards, a program for waterfront property owners who want to minimize impact on shoreline plant and animal habitat through understanding and management of water runoff, septic systems, pest control and the use of alternative structures, such as 
soft armoring.

The goal is to share information and resources with property owners, McNamara said, so that they can decide what action they want to take, even if it’s only a small drop in the bucket.

For more information about WSU Extension programs, visit http://jefferson.wsu.edu.

________

Jennifer Jackson is a free-lance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. She writes a column about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her, phone 360-379-5688, or e-mail jjackson@olypen.com.

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