Forest Service recognized by EPA for watershed improvement efforts

Photo: James Capurso
James Capurso, Pacific Northwest regional fisheries biologist. USDA Forest Service photo.

OREGON — The Environmental Protection Agency recognized the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest regional fisheries biologist and regional Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Plan program lead for their contributions as part of a multi-agency federal team that established a now four-year-old partnership to encourage and fund watershed improvement efforts.\

James Capurso, Pacific Northwest regional fisheries biologist for the USDA Forest Service, and Christine Hirsch, Pacific Northwest Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Plan program lead, were among six federal employees honored for Outstanding Leadership in Collaborative Problem Solving at the 2018 EPA National Honors awards on July 10. The award recognizes the contributions and efforts made by the Drinking Water Providers Partnership, of which the EPA and Bureau of Land Management are also members.

“I think this is the first time we’ve had a funding partnership which also includes state funding in the mix. This particular partnership also includes non-profits that have been instrumental in reaching out to the municipal water providers,” Hirsch said. “Traditionally, the Forest Service hasn’t partnered very frequently with water providers so this is bringing new partners into the fold to accomplish key restoration work.”

Photo: Christine Hirsch
Christine Hirsch, Pacific Northwest Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Plan program lead. USDA Forest Service photo.

The Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a regional interagency program that protects and restores drinking water quality and native fish habitat within municipal watersheds, benefiting the towns depending upon them for clean, pure water. A component of the partnership pools agency financial resources to fund restoration projects and outreach efforts within municipal watersheds.

The Partnership provides a mechanism for federal, state, local and several non-government partners to collaboratively evaluate projects and distribute pooled funds towards projects benefiting municipal watersheds, including those reducing erosion and sedimentation, improving aquatic organism passage, increasing the complexity of habitats in streams and floodplains, addressing contamination or other issues related to legacy mining projects, performing vegetation management and conducting public outreach and education efforts.
Local partners create the projects and pool resources for action – but if they need additional resources to complete the work, they submit applications for regional funding.

“When we were establishing this partnership, we literally went door to door visiting city and town water providers in the Cascade Mountains and Coast Range,” Capurso said. “Everywhere we went, from the ‘one traffic light towns to the larger cities, water providers were supportive, even excited, about the partnership.”
During its first four years, the Drinking Water Providers partnership has awarded more than $2.3 million in federal, state, and private funding towards watershed restoration, protection and improvement projects in Oregon and Washington.

Projects on seven national forests, including the Willamette, Umpqua, Wallowa-Whitman, Olympic, Okanogan-Wenatchee, Siuslaw, Gifford Pinchot and Umatilla National Forests, to protect or improve drinking water supplies in more than a dozen communities in Washington (Walla Walla, Cashmere, Leavenworth and Port Townsend) and Oregon (Glide, Eugene, Langlois, Cave Junction, Myrtle Point, Lincoln City and Yachats) received funds from partnership in 2019.

Group photo of members of the Drinking Water Providers Partnership. USDA Forest Service photo.
Group photo of members of the Drinking Water Providers Partnership. USDA Forest Service photo.