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Connecting with the Grassroots: The Millers River Watershed Council and the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Showers, Kate
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1470
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
water resources
capacity building
institutional analysis
Abstract: "This paper will chart the experience of the Millers River Watershed Council with a Commonwealth of Massachusetts (USA)'s Capacity Building Grant. The discussion will assess the significance of personalities, ideologies, institutional structures and understandings of 'community-based' and 'citizen-based' organizations when connecting grassroots organizations to state initiatives to protect a watershed. "In 1970 a postmaster, a farmer, an auto mechanic and a small businessman founded the Millers River Watershed Council to fight the dumping of raw sewage and industrial waste into the Millers River. The Council grew in size and effectiveness; today the river is significantly cleaner. "The Council was not unique. By the mid-1980s watershed groups existed on all major Massachusetts streams. The groups experienced difficulties relating to state agencies' disunity; divided into sectors, departments were unable to relate to each other or address watershed problems. In response, river activists formed the Massachusetts Watershed Coalition in 1992. The Coalition approached the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) with a proposal to restore Massachusetts' rivers to fishable and swimmable quality and protect their function by developing public/private partnerships on a watershed basis. "Dialogue between the Coalition and EOEA resulted in the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative, whose purpose was to 'shift from top-down, federal-and state-driven environmental management to bottom-up, locally focused environmental management.' A main component of the Initiative is EOEA's reorientation of environmental agencies to serve watershed-based decision-making. "Implementation of a pilot project in 1994 resulted in the Watershed Management Methodology. Considered essential were: * co-leadership roles of state, watershed associations or other citizen groups, business community and municipalities to implement the watershed approach; * bottom-up resource assessment, planning and involvement of all interests; * sub-watershed focus of problem identification and Watershed Action Plan development; * goal of targeted allocation of limited dollars to watershed priorities, according to where the most environmental protection for available funds can be achieved. "This Watershed Management Methodology also calls for strengthening the institutional capacity of the existing watershed councils. For, along with river advocacy, the councils are expected to assume bureaucractic responsibilities, relating to and co-ordinating with activities of state and federal agencies. This linking up of agencies is supposed to ensure popular participation in the design and implementation of a Five-Year Phase Planning Cycle. "The statewide implementation of the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative began in 1977. At that time, the Millers River Watershed Council was quite weak; membership was low, and those most active were tired. When approached by a representative of the state, a capacity building grant appeared to some to be a useful idea. Application for and implementation of this grant precipitated dialogue about the purpose, direction and future of the group, and whether the state's agenda reflected the Council's interests. This paper will discuss and evaluate the on- going process."

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