Flow of Money, Organization, People Key to Watershed Group Success

The Allegheny Front hosts a roundtable with a few watershed organizations as they wrapped up working with Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. Many of Pennsylvania's approximately 300 watershed groups are trying to figure out how best to sustain themselves. Anthony Brino contributed to this piece, narrated by The Allegheny Front's Jennifer Szweda Jordan.

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JORDAN: While they may be one of the most important parts of our ecosystems, there's nothing innately sexy about maintaining watersheds.

DROPP: I think as soon as you say watersheds, you see the curtains go down over the eyelids. (LAUGHTER)

JORDAN: That's Elizabeth Dropp, from Conewango Creek Watershed Association, in northwestern Pennsylvania. She was speaking at a recent roundtable discussion The Allegheny Front held with several leaders of watershed groups. We met with Dropp and the others as they wrapped up working with Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. Many of Pennsylvania's approximately 300 watershed groups are trying to figure out how best to sustain themselves, so a few have turned to Bayer. The Bayer Center's goal is to help the groups better chart their futures. Dropp says that curtain-over-the-eyelids quality of watersheds, or what she calls "the technicality of our business," is just one of the problems facing groups like hers.

There are, of course, other reasons people aren't lining up to save watersheds. In today's economy, funding is tight. If a group doesn't have cash flow, everything else could unravel. Cindy Cox, of South Fayette Conservation Group, south of Pittsburgh, explains.

COX: We do worry about funding sources in the future. If we can't build our group, what's going to happen with it down the road? You have to be able to sustain the organization. You can't look for funding if you don't have the organization.

JORDAN: The Bayer center has the groups going back to basics, paging through procedures to see what could be streamlined. They're developing strategic plans and seeking news ways to raise money. They're increasingly reaching out to the community. The Jacobs Creek Watershed Association is teaching elementary and high school students about stream water quality testing around the watershed that starts in the Laurel Highlands, and includes popular fishing and canoeing spots. Patricia Miller is executive director with Jacobs Creek Watershed Association.

MILLER: One of our projects is to create wetlands on the Southmoreland School District property. We hope to expand that into an educational resource for the school district years to come. We are working with the schools and the youth, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.

JORDAN: The consensus at the roundtable was that getting students--AND ADULTS-- more involved in these largely volunteer movements is a must. Miller said that as her group reviewed its history, it realized,

MILLER: Our board was very small, it had been the same board for many years.

JORDAN: In addition to a vibrant board, Miller says an active volunteer base is key to maintaining a conservation group.

MILLER: You can have members, but if they aren't involved in the day-to-day activities and taking a role, it doesn't helpÖI think just finding people who have the time and energy.

JORDAN: The watershed groups feel certain that if they can bring in new members, there will be no shortage of work. Joan Jessen, of the Chartiers Creek Watershed Association, said,

JESSEN: We see many more possibilities than we can even attempt.