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Watershed Planning: Partnerships

To actually restore and protect water quality through planning, all of the major interests in the watershed need to be engaged in the process. Building a functional partnership is both the hardest and most rewarding part of watershed projects.

Why Form Watershed Partnerships?

  • Build strength in numbers: People have identified water-related needs or problems they cannot address alone, through teamwork more can be achieved.
  • Increase resources: Partners can tackle the problem more effectively through pooling resources.
  • Diversify expertise: Partners can draw on expertise and information from a wide range of people who live on the land and know the local community.
  • Bring everyone along: Involving all the partners with an interest in the project means it will be more acceptable to the community and easier to sustain.
  • Create solutions: Working through issues with a diverse group helps find solutions through different points of view.

What Makes a Watershed Partnership Successful?

  • Broad representation: All interests in the watershed are represented. No one is excluded.
  • Local knowledge: Many people who live and work in the watershed are involved. These participants understand how things work on a local level.
  • Effective communication: Communication is the primary tool to resolve conflict and reach agreement. Conflict is reduced when everyone understands the issues and each others’ needs and concerns.
  • Common vision: A shared community vision builds long-term support. With the public fully involved in planning and decision making, personal responsibility and commitment are increased.
  • Collaborative decision making: Decisions are usually made by consensus, and everyone’s needs are heard. By working to address all concerns, groups often come up with creative solutions that are widely accepted.
  • Pooled resources: Practical management of resources is improved by meshing the efforts of several agencies and organizations.
  • Coordination: A person shoulders the job of coordinating meetings, communications, events, relationships with agencies and other tasks. This can either be a volunteer, or a staff member hired for this purpose.

What Can Make a Watershed Partnership Fail?

  • Unresolved conflict: Key group members are unwilling to work at resolving conflict and/or opposing groups refuse to talk or associate.
  • Lack of clear purpose: Problems are not clearly defined or are not felt to be critical.
  • Vague goals: Goals or time frames are either unrealistic or poorly defined.
  • Incomplete group: Key interests or decision makers are not represented or refuse to participate.
  • Unequal partnership: Some interests have a disproportionate amount of power, not all partners stand to benefit, or members are not being given credit for their contributions.
  • Lack of commitment: Financial and time requirements outweigh potential benefits, or some members are not comfortable with the level of commitment required.
  • Basic value conflict: One or more partners have irreconcilable differences with no room for negotiation.

Ask these questions regularly:

  • Should new groups or individuals be brought into the partnership?
  • Are there enough interests represented to make good decisions that the community will support?
  • Are the best people present to fill the roles that have been identified?

Encourage Participation

  • Establish a clear sense of direction so people know what to expect.
  • Give people specific tasks, and support their effort with technical assistance and resources. The group needs to set clear deadlines and identify who is responsible for tasks.
  • Appeal to people’s sense of stewardship. Show how the problems in the watershed affect residents—in economic and social terms, as well as environmental.
  • Tell prospective members what will be expected of them and how much time they will be expected to commit.
  • Hold meetings at a time that is convenient for your group—people who are representing an agency or organization might prefer to meet during the daytime, while many volunteers need to meet in the evenings or on weekends.
  • Bring food (even if it’s just a light snack). Committee members need time to interact one-on-one or in small groups. Goodwill develops around the coffee and cookies, sometimes much more than during the actual meeting.
  • Recognize the group and its members publicly so the community knows who is representing them. Use all available media to give the project a presence in the community.
  • Hold site visits, stream walks, canoe trips and driving tours—people need to get outside and share camaraderie in a natural setting within the watershed area!

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