From Colorado River tributaries to Humboldt Bay, and from Prince William Sound to the Snake River – over 30 Waterkeepers from the west just gathered near Hood River, Oregon for three days of networking, brainstorming, and inspiration.  Some were the Waterkeeper stalwarts:  Columbia Riverkeeper and Puget Soundkeeper.  Others were just starting out, working to become licensed Waterkeepers in new watersheds, such as in Chico Creek, Boulder Creek and the outer Columbia River estuary.  All in all there are 48 Waterkeepers in our Pacific Region, including brand new groups in Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  The best thing about these gatherings is they offer an opportunity to learn (of course) but even better – it’s a chance to bond with our Waterkeeper tribe.

The first order of business was to get updates from all the Keepers.  We heard about a new legal action to lower water temperatures in the Snake River.  The long and impressive list includes efforts to reduce the size of oil and gas leases in the Colorado River watershed, 4 new clean water act legal cases in Humboldt Bay, efforts to stop coal mining in Prince William Sound, successful changes in the cleanup plan for the Portland Harbor on the Tualatin River, amazing projects in Hawaii to restore native oysters, and an action forcing the decommissioning of military vessels in San Francisco Bay.  There’s lots more…this is just the short list!

We were treated to a couple of great presentations and discussions lead by Eric de Place, of Sightline Institute.  His topic was Strategic Communications in an Era of Fake News.  In these times of serious decline of traditional journalism, it was a rare treat to be able to sit down and talk with Eric, a researcher, writer, speaker, and policy analyst who spearheads the Institute’s work on energy policy. Known as a leading expert on coal and oil export plans in the Pacific Northwest, it was a treat to hear about our successes in defeating coal and oil terminals, and the challenges that await us with fracked gas transport and proposed methanol plants

Amidst all this was an urgent call from our very own Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper!  Our friends in Sandpoint, Idaho are fighting a second rail bridge that is proposed to carry even more fossil fuels and hazardous materials along and over Lake Pend Oreille.  This will result in increased dangerous trail traffic through Spokane and along our river.  Please stay informed and write a comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about this.  Stay in touch with us for updates.

The last session of note was a discussion about agricultural pollution.  We went around the room and almost everyone had examples of how pollution from large farms impacts our watersheds.  Of course we need our farms and value the hard work our farmers do.  But almost all of us shared serious problems in our streams, rivers and lakes due to low dissolved oxygen, too much sediment, toxic algae, excessive nutrients, pesticides, and other issues that seriously degrade fish habitat.  In many cases, these problems stem from poor agricultural practices. In the Spokane River watershed, we recognize that good agricultural practices are essential to clean water.  So we highlighted our concerns about sediment pollution, high nitrates, damage to headwater streams, and excessive erosion in Hangman Creek that combine to result in  lethal conditions for our struggling native trout in many areas.  We support and celebrate our local farmers who are taking the extra steps to protect water quality by respecting stream buffers, preventing erosion, and switching to no-till agriculture.

A lot more topics were discussed, fun was had, new connections made, and inspiration gained.  Our next big gathering is the International Waterkeeper Conference in June, in Buffalo, New York.  Stay tuned!