The Watershed Project (San Francisco): “We develop programs that make residents feel like they can be part of the solution,” stated Juliana Gonzalez, Executive Director

Note to Reader:

The story below is extracted from an article by Peter Schurmann that was produced as part of UCLA’s 2018 Watershed Fellowship for Ethnic Media with support from the Resources Legacy Fund, and published by Black Voice News. 

California Watersheds Hold the Key to State’s Resource Challenges

According to Peter Schurmann, when Juliana Gonzalez explains to her neighbors what a watershed is, she’ll often crumple up a ball of paper and flatten it out with a little ridge running across the middle. Then she’ll dip the tip of her finger in a glass of water and let a single drop trickle down the page. 

“That ridge is called the water divide,” she says, “which means when it rains the water will go down one side or another. Wherever that water runs, collects and drains out is a watershed.”

Gonzalez is the executive director of The Watershed Project, a nonprofit that works to engage residents in the largely immigrant and working class city of Richmond, about 30 miles east of San Francisco, in local watershed issues.

Need for Local Solutions is Critical

Peter Schurmann reports that Juliana Gonzalez is among a number of grassroots activists working to mobilize diverse communities around some of California’s most pressing environmental issues, from water and air quality to resource conservation and lack of green space.

“We take things like stormwater infrastructure, local flooding, rainwater harvesting, gardening… and we use these as our vehicles for engagement,” says Gonzalez. “We develop programs that make residents feel like they can be part of the solution.”

Peter Schurmann observes that experts say that climate change makes the need for local solutions more critical than ever. But Gonzalez admits there are challenges, including educating residents about the connection between the health of their local watershed and the health of their own community, and ensuring they have a voice in how that watershed is managed.

A geographic delineation, watersheds define areas of land where rainwater drains to larger bodies of water, like lakes or the sea. What happens in one part of a watershed will necessarily impact water, air and soil quality in another.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Schurmann notes, the watershed approach offers “the most effective” means of addressing some of California’s toughest resource challenges. At the local level, it is also a key means of tackling critical issues impacting vulnerable communities.

And that’s critical, he quotes Gonzalez, if California hopes to achieve a more sustainable future. “Taking care of local resources,” she stresses, “requires an appreciation of all voices.”

To Learn More:

To read the complete story, download a copy of California Watersheds Hold the Key to State’s Resource Challenges