This year, the Pacific Regional Summit was held from April 3 – 6 in Boise, Idaho on the Boise River Greenbelt. The summit focused on water quality monitoring and more broadly on regional water issues in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana including legislation and enforcement, funding support, and collaboration between waterkeeper groups and other environmental action groups. As SYRCL has had a community science River Monitoring Program for 22 years and we are an active member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, it only made sense for us to have a presence and to lead a number of sessions during the summit.
Aaron Zettler-Mann, SYRCL’s Watershed Science Director/Interim Executive Director, and Kyle McNeil, SYRCL’s Ecohydrologist, led a roundtable discussion on how to engage with volunteers so that they see the value in their work. Study design and modification including how to think about site selection and how to re-evaluate that selection as the climate and need changes. In this session, participants discussed strategies to ensure volunteer-collected data are high quality and consistent so that they can be used for advocacy, focused restoration, and research, and thought about setting up monitoring protocols that will be scientifically robust. Aaron and Kyle also helped lead a discussion about improving communication and applying science, and Aaron presented a session on Esri ArcGIS Mapping.
After the Summit ended, Kyle shared his thoughts on the experience:
“I really enjoyed attending the Waterkeeper Alliance Pacific Summit. It was an awesome opportunity to hear about how other community-oriented groups are tackling water issues in their own watersheds, how those types of problems differed from the Yuba’s, and what solutions look like for organizations with different skill sets. A lot of the other Waterkeeper groups were more legislative focused, which I think is super important for enforcing water quality issues when a business or entity does NOT care. Thankfully, the Yuba is full of people who care about the environment and, especially, the river. We’re fortunate, and I think SYRCL’s style reflects that. We bring people and community together to discuss solutions and work out pathways forward without needing to bring legal action. It can take longer sometimes, but it certainly beats having to have long drawn-out legal battles and evidence of wrongdoing.“
“Some of the sessions that I was able to attend and really valued were about emerging pollutants like PFAS (‘forever chemicals’) and 6PPD-quinone (a compound in tires that was found to be highly lethal to coho salmon. Ongoing research has revealed salmonid species like chinook and steelhead, who are found in the Yuba, similarly experience lethal effects). These pollutants are only more recently receiving the attention and research they deserve, but that means the regulatory enforcement is still being worked out, the laboratory costs are high, and not every lab has a protocol for analyzing if it’s in the water, and the public is hearing sensational new articles, but doesn’t yet know how to take action on it. An insight I took away was how we as a country can take a pathway of response similar to that of PFAS. 6PPD-q may be this recently identified contaminant of concern, but we do have much of the framework for tackling this issue already. This isn’t the first new pollutant we’ve encountered. The path forward is bringing awareness to the nature of the issue, the harm that 6PPD-q causes, and then providing solutions and actions to take. As I listened to the discussion about PFAS, I was reminded of the incredible film, Angel of Alabama, that I saw at the flagship 2023 Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City & Grass Valley. The film showed the health consequences of simply living near factories that produce PFAS chemicals. The harm that these communities are exposed to is truly a precursor to the negative health effects that we all are likely to face when we manufacture and use compounds without fully understanding their health effects and whether they end up in our waterways or other natural environments.”
“I also greatly appreciated listening to the sessions talking about water law and how tricky some of the regulations and case law can be. It takes a great deal of thought to protect our waters through just legal means. If we can avoid the legal battles, by instilling collaboration and partnership, by education and outreach, then I think we are going to be avoiding much of the pain of splitting hairs about whether this water or that water is protected and to what level the ‘protection’ counts for.”
“Another amazing part of the summit was getting outside for a river clean up! And as an added bonus, we had the spontaneous opportunity to receive a brief tour of the inside of Owyhee Dam (the tallest dam in the U.S. prior to the Hoover Dam).”
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