Building Watershed Support through Partnerships

A project of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain

The year was 2002, and the continued directive from federal resource agencies down to the states and others working in natural resource management were to think big, preferably in terms of an ecosystem. Although many resource managers had practiced large-scale resource management for decades, regulatory agencies were finally thinking in terms of the whole ecological system and how all things in the natural world interconnect.

One outcome of this new directive was a focus on watershed planning. A watershed is defined as all land and water within the boundaries of a drainage area (Utah State Forestry Extension) or the specific land area that drains water into a river system or other body of water (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). A watershed can be a massive area such as the Mississippi River Basin or broken down into smaller areas as defined by stream size.

Mississippi has nine basins, or large watershed areas, including North Independent Streams, Yazoo River, Big Black River, Pearl River, South Independent Streams, Tennessee River, Tombigbee River, Pascagoula River, and the Coastal Streams. Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) manages these basins with the assistance of a team of stakeholders to address water quality issues on a five year rotation for planning, management and implementation. Funding for their 319 Nonpoint Source Program grant is now dependent on these rotations. The program supports a wide variety of nonpoint source (NPS) or polluted runoff technical assistance, environmental education and training, technology transfer, demonstration and monitoring projects, and wetland restoration (www.deq.state.ms.us).

While DEQ was establishing its new Basin Teams throughout the state of Mississippi, the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain (LTMCP) was a fledgling organization working to refine its role within the service area of the six coastal counties. This area includes parts of Pearl River, Coastal Streams, and Pascagoula River Basins. With watersheds playing an increasingly large part in funding for natural resource management projects, LTMCP applied for and received grant funds from EPA Region IV to begin working with communities in six local watersheds to build local partnerships.

In choosing the watersheds to work in, LTMCP selected watersheds that represented south Mississippi geographically and ecologically; where LTMCP owned and managed lands; and where there was a demonstrated need for restoration and protection.  The watersheds that were chosen included Turkey Creek, Red Creek, Old Fort Bayou, West Hobolochitto Creek, Tchoutacabouffa River and Upper Bay of St. Louis.

Cynthia Ramseur and Sam LaRosa view the Red Creek Watershed map at the fall 2006 community forum.

Judy Steckler, director of LTMCP, says the purpose behind the partnerships is to get the communities within each watershed engaged in understanding their resources and to have a hand in planning for the future of their water resources.  “The whole idea,” Steckler says, “is that LTMCP comes to the people who live in the watershed to listen to concerns and issues and to get their ideas for what they want to see for their future.” Steckler believes the watershed partnerships will get the residents thinking about where they live and what they want it to be for their children. “Then we (LTMCP) take that information they give us and compile it and bring it back to the community with a few suggestions as to how to implement their ideas,” says Steckler. “They take that information and prioritize the actions. The next step is for LTMCP to assist the watershed group to find funding to put these ‘action items’ into place. The ideas come from within; we only provide technical assistance and a sounding board and maybe some organizational capacity.”

Each watershed partnership is decidedly different because of the character of the community and the goals they have for the future of their watershed. However, they all share a common bond in that they would like to see their watershed improve water quality and maintain or improve the quality of life. For these groups, quality of life refers mostly to the character of the area and access to clean air and water and outdoor recreation.

Turkey Creek Watershed Partnership held a steering committee meeting in the summer of 2006.

Within each partnership, a steering committee of key community leaders and decision-makers sets the course for what happens next. Turkey Creek and Red Creek were the first partnerships established by LTMCP and are furthest along in their planning and implementation. Each of these watershed partnerships has formed a strong community group that follows the action plan set by the community. Because of these plans and on behalf of the efforts of LTMCP, both of these watershed partnerships have been awarded grants to assist in implementation of their ideas. Both groups have plans for wetland restoration and an environmental education component.

If you would like more information about the watershed partnerships, contact Judy Steckler, Executive Director LTMCP, 228/435-9191, judyltmcp@aol.com.

Anticipated Environmental Outcomes of the Watershed Partnerships:

  1. increase awareness throughout the local community about the importance of protecting the local watersheds;
  2. provide a proactive mechanism for local landowners and stakeholders to address local watershed concerns and seek action;
  3. provide better buffering in systems potentially damaged by a lack of BMPs;
  4. increase the use of BMPs within the entire watershed to prevent erosion and contamination of ecosystems downstream.