In our area, the words conservation and environment are used on a regular basis without conflict.
This may be the norm in the Walla Walla area, but it is not the case in many other locations. The unique ability of local citizens to work together has become widely known outside our basin as “The Walla Walla Way.”
Busy lives with jobs, family and too many commitments to count can get in the way of pausing to reflect on where we live.
As education coordinator at the Walla Walla Community College William A. Grant Water & Environmental Center, I meet with fellow educators and natural resource managers far outside our little city.
My hometown of Walla Walla used to be recognized as “the place with the penitentiary and the onions.” Now, I’m sure like many of you, I hear about Walla Walla being recognized for so much more, and I also get many questions about the water and conservation work taking place in our region.
Just recently, the Mill Creek Channel was once again modified to help improve fish passage when water levels are low. This is the second summer in a row work of this type has been done on the channel. Staff of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tri-State Steelheaders, and many other basin partners including other government agencies, non-profit organizations and involved citizens helped with this work.
Our region is also a leader in the state for number of stream miles restored through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Restoration sites can be identified by black weed barriers and native plants often in agricultural areas. The work of our local conservation district staff and willing landowners have made this work possible.
In the more urban areas, the Creating Urban Riparian Buffers Program and Kooskooskie Commons, a local environmental organization, have increased native vegetation and buffers along streams such as Yellowhawk and Garrison Creek.
Many new landowners are getting involved with this urban restoration work. Local volunteers including K-12 and community college students have been instrumental in preparing and planting these urban sites. Another group of workers that has been vital to the success of these projects are work crews from the Washington State Penitentiary.
The list of local organizations work in our basin is long and diverse. Staff of the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership are helping protect stream flows through flexible water management options.
Staff of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are helping with restoration projects, monitoring fish populations, and offering environmental education opportunities to students.
The Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council is monitoring water quality and helping with aquifer recharge. The “Walla Walla Way” is taking many different forms as state and federal agencies, nonprofits, and interested residents work together.
On a more humorous note, the documented red wiggler worm population of our basin has broken 100,000. Both Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College now have large scale vermiculture bins (worm composting) for fruit and vegetable scraps from their cafes. These hard working worms keep up to 150 pounds of fruit and vegetable scraps out of our local landfill each day.
As the weather begins to turn, I encourage you to take notice of the many accomplishments our community has made in the area of conservation.
Improving the environmental health of our basin takes working together.
Thank you for doing what you can to help by being conscious of your water use, thinking about how your actions will affect the land and water around you and working together to conserve what we have and improve the environmental health of our region.
Melissa Holecek is education coordinator at Walla Walla Community College’s William A. Grant Water & Environmental Center.